At the beginning of the season, Scotty Hopson anticipated being the go-to guy for the Volunteers in 2010-11.
Hopson is living up to those expectations of being the Vols' playmaker, as he often carries the fight to the opponent for the Vols. In the games that he has been atop the leading scorer column, UT boasts a 10-3 record.
Coming off of a pair of highlight-reel performances against Florida and South Carolina (22 points and 23 points, respectively), Hopson's re-creation of such production will be the key ingredient to Big Orange success this Saturday against a talented Georgia squad.
After Hopson led the way in beating the Gamecocks to end a three-game conference skid on Wednesday, he acknowledged the necessity of his playing at an elite level.
"I just made it an emphasis to stay in attack mode," Hopson said. "Making plays for myself and the other guys on this team is obviously what my job is. That's what this team needs me to do, and I want to do that at all costs."
As the team's leading scorer — averaging nearly 17 points per game — Hopson's numbers, as well as his recognition of his role, speak volumes to the effort he brings to the court each game. The Vols will need him to play aggressively on Saturday, as their last meeting with the Bulldogs was literally a toss-up, as Brian Williams' put-back buzzer-beater helped the Vols escape an imminent overtime in Athens a month ago with a 59-57 victory.
In addition to Hopson's leadership, the Vols will need to continue their sharp defensive play. Georgia's success stems from a threatening junior duo in Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. Combined, Thompkins and Leslie average close to 31 points and 15 rebounds per game. UT coach Bruce Pearl spoke to the Vols' strong defensive play after the South Carolina game on Wednesday night.
"You've got to start with defense and realize that, with Josh Bone and Melvin Goins, we have got a good defender on the ball," Pearl said.
While the Vols have been successful as a whole defensively, the free-throw line has been an irksome nemesis for this team. The Vols have attempted 13 or fewer free throws in a game five times in conference play this season. The team has found itself lining up on the blocks rather than the charity stripe on a regular basis, but home-court advantage produces less parody in the Vols' free throw game (UT attempts seven and a half fewer free throws on the road and about three fewer at home).
The Vols will have to hope that Thompson-Boling Arena's foul stripes will be forgiving on Saturday.
Pearl elaborated on the benefits of playing at home and the team's focus on mounting momentum during the season's homestretch after Wednesday's victory.
"It's good to be back at home," he said. "I felt like our home-court advantage, our crowd helped us win tonight. It was good to get back on the winning track, and it will help our confidence."
Georgia and Tennessee are in a three-way tie for third place in the SEC East standings, and the Vols know that the Bulldogs will come to Thompson-Boling with a bad taste in their mouths and revenge on their minds. However, Pearl's team should not lack motivation, because victories in upcoming head-to-head games against Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Saturday's bought against Georgia could vault UT into second place in the East.