November 22, 2007

Lofton trying to break out of slump

Five-letter word. Starts with an "S."

As shank is to a golfer, this is to a basketball player.

Go ahead, fill it in. The word is "slump," and there's no question Tennessee senior guard Chris Lofton was in the throes of the worst one of his career.

The player Rivals.com called the No. 2 3-point shooter of all time, the player who is on his way to becoming the SEC's career leader in 3-pointers, made 6-of-28 shots from the floor in the Vols' first three games. That dismal display included a 17.6 percent success rate (3-for-17) from 3-point range. It was the worst three-game stretch of Lofton's career.

Fortunately for the Vols and Lofton, he broke out of the slump Tuesday night in UT's 109-40 demolition of Middle Tennessee State. Lofton made six of his nine shots, including 5-for-8 from 3-point range.

Lofton's early season struggles beg the question: What do you do when a guy is going like this?

"You just have to continue to be positive, especially if he's done it before," said UCF coach Kirk Speraw, the 2007 Conference USA Coach of the Year. "Allow him to remain confident in his abilities.

"Your stud players and great shooters, they have great confidence, and you don't want that confidence to waver."

But that can be tough. The one thing in which a player such as Lofton derives his confidence from is the shooting ability that has abandoned him.

"You have to be careful not to get him dwelling on it," said UNLV coach Lon Kruger, who took the Rebels to the Sweet 16 last season. "Tell him to trust what he's doing. Sometimes it's that simple: 'You're a good shooter, you've always been one, jump up there and knock the next one down.' "

Speraw is dealing with his own slumping guard, senior Mike O'Donnell. O'Donnell shot 44.2 percent last season, 43 percent from 3-point range, but this season he is shooting only 29.4 percent through two games. UCF's next game is Thanksgiving Day against Villanova at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando.

"He's in a little bit of a slump, and I'm not even addressing it," Speraw said. "I'll talk to him a little bit about being out of balance on dribble jumpers, but I won't belabor the point. I'll just try to get him refocused on some things."

One of the things that might get a player out of an offensive slump is picking up his play on the other end.

"Try to get them to focus more on defense to help out their offense," Speraw said. "Maybe they can get an easy bucket out of a steal and a runout.

"If you feel like there is a technique issue he's out of balance, poor follow-through you have to address it. But if nothing is there, you want to show you're confident in him. Let him shoot his way out of it."

VIKINGS CONQUER FLORIDA

Cleveland State is off to a 4-2 start this season, largely thanks to its performance against Florida teams.

The Vikings, who went 10-21 last season and finished last in the Horizon League, won at USF and beat Florida State and Florida Atlantic at a tournament in Daytona Beach.

Maybe they can move their home games to the Sunshine State.

"We did like that weather," Cleveland State coach Gary Waters told Rivals.com. "We don't get much of that here."

Waters, who had previous head-coaching stops at Kent State and Rutgers, is in his second season at Cleveland State. He inherited a program that won only 31 games in the four seasons before his arrival. He has been busy revamping the roster, and he's making use of some transfers and freshmen - as well as a couple of holdovers.

"We're not a bad team, we're just trying to find ourselves," Waters said. "Almost all of these kids are new. There are only two kids who played any time last year. One was a part-timer and the other was the leading scorer and rebounder (J'Nathan Bullock).

"There are nine new kids, and it's taking us time to understand each other. We lost to Georgia Southern (72-70) in that tournament (in Daytona Beach) and we had an eight-point lead with two minutes to go. They didn't know how to handle it and it didn't help that they didn't know each other. On the other hand, it helped us down the stretch of a close game with FSU (CSU won 69-66) and we executed well."

Bullock was a handful against the Florida teams. He had 26 points and 10 rebounds against USF, 19 points against FSU and 25 points and eight rebounds against FAU.

The Vikings limited the Seminoles to 35.3-percent shooting.

"We can defend, let me just tell you that," Waters said. "That's our strength. We pressure people."

They certainly turned up the heat in Florida.

G'DAY FOR MATES

Vanderbilt freshman center Andrew Ogilvy already has garnered some headlines. Ogilvy, a 6-foot-11 Aussie, was the first SEC Freshman of the Week this season after averaging 19 points and 6.5 rebounds in victories over Austin Peay and Toledo. The man coaches and teammates call "A.J." showed no signs of slowing down Tuesday night. Ogilvy scored a season-high 21 points in a victory over Valparaiso, including 19 in the final 13 minutes.

What you may not know is Patrick Mills, the freshman guard who helped St. Mary's upset Oregon on Tuesday night, is a former teammate of Ogilvy's. Both are from Canberra, and they played together on the Australian 19-Under National Team. The team went 8-1 at the U-19 World Championships in Serbia and came in fifth, with Ogilvy averaging 22.3 points and 9.8 rebounds and Mills averaging 14.9 points and 4.6 assists.

Mills dropped 37 points on the Ducks, going 10 of 20 from the field and 13 of 14 from the line. With the victories Tuesday night, Mills' Gaels moved to 4-0; Ogilvy's Commodores are 3-0.

FRIDAY MATCHUP TO WATCH

Indiana (3-0) travels to Illinois State (3-0) on Friday night, and it figures to be a great matchup of young shooting guards from the Midwest.

Everyone knows about Hoosiers freshman phenom Eric Gordon (28 points per game, 4.3 assists per game). The No. 2 player in the 2007 class according to Rivals.com has delivered on every bit of his promise so far. He has two 30-point efforts in IU's first three games and a ridiculous 58.3-percent shooting average from 3-point range.

The guy not as many people know is Redbirds sophomore guard Osiris Eldridge. A three-star prospect out of Chicago, he was a member of the Rivals150 and emerged last season as the MVC Freshman of the Year after averaging 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds.

Eldridge, whose first name is that of the Egyptian god of the underworld, has helped Illinois State put its opponents to rest this season by averaging 21.7 points and 5.3 rebounds. He has shot 10 of 15 from the floor in each of his past two games, including 8-for-12 from 3-point range. He had 27 points in a 97-81 victory over Southeast Missouri State and followed it up with 30 points in an 89-73 rout of UNC-Wilmington.

STAT WATCH

There are many teams with deep rotations, but Memphis may have the most offensive firepower on its bench.

That was evident after the Tigers rolled past Arkansas State on Tuesday, 84-63. Sophomore reserves Willie Kemp and Doneal Mack (both four-star recruits) were responsible for nearly half of the Tigers' offense, combining for 41 points.

Kemp scored 22 points in 23 minutes, while Mack needed just 20 minutes to add 19 points.

  • Stanford forward Lawrence Hill started for the first time this season on Tuesday, and he responded by scoring 25 points to lead the Cardinal to a 72-61 win over Yale. Hill, who led the team with 15.7 ppg last season, spent the first five games as a reserve, not playing more than 18 minutes in each contest.

  • Arizona freshman guard Jerryd Bayless nearly put together a triple double in his third college game. Bayless scored 20 points, racked up nine assists and grabbed nine rebounds in the Wildcats' 81-62 win over Missouri-Kansas City.

  • Add Iowa State's Craig Brackins to the list of freshmen who are putting up impressive numbers. Brackins led the Cyclones with 23 points, going 11 of 16 from the field in their 68-58 loss to Minnesota. The Gophers' bench outscored their counterparts 30-1.

  • Tennessee set or tied a number of records in its 109-40 rout over Middle Tennessee State on Tuesday. It was the first time in 217 games the Blue Raiders had given up 100 points. The Vols also tied a school record with 16 3-pointers. Their 30 assists was the second-highest total in school history.

    INJURY WATCH

    One of the nation's most versatile players will miss the rest of the season.

    UAB senior guard Paul Delaney III tore an ACL. Delaney led the team with 15.5 ppg, 4.8 apg and 1.8 spg and ranked second with 4.8 rpg last season.

    It's a severe blow for UAB, which is already off to a disappointing 2-3 start with losses to Florida State, Rhode Island and Georgia Southern. With Delaney back and the addition of a host of high-profile transfers, the Blazers were expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament berth.

  • The severity of Kansas State forward David Hoskins' knee injury remains a mystery, but Wildcats coach Frank Martin's comments at his Tuesday teleconference made it sound as if his playing career is in jeopardy. "The only thing that is important to me is that David can live a healthy life," Martin said. "We are going to wait until that knee or joint is fully healed. Right now he is rehabbing it very hard. We've got to let nature take it's course." Martin refused to gauge when or if Hoskins would return. Hoskins, who underwent a second knee surgery earlier this month, has missed the Wildcats' first three games.

  • LSU forward Tasmin Mitchell, one of the SEC's most versatile players, did not play the final two games of the Maui Invitational due to an ankle injury. That may explain why Division-II Chaminade nearly upset the Tigers in the second round of the losers' bracket on Tuesday.

  • Oregon guard Bryce Taylor, who has been hobbled by an injured right shoulder, is expected to return this week. Taylor, who averaged 14.1 ppg last season, did not play in the Ducks' loss to St. Mary's.

    Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com. Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.




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