Vols' Lofton out hurt


Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee junior guard Chris Lofton will miss Wednesday night's game at Mississippi with a sprained right ankle, and coach Bruce Pearl said Monday it was unclear when he will return.

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Tennessee's Chris Lofton, center, is carried off the court by teammates Ryan Childress, left, and Jordan Howell during the second half against South Carolina on Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn.

The Associated Press

X-rays taken Monday did not show any fractures, Pearl said.

The Southeastern Conference's leading scorer at 21.5 points a game, Lofton sprained his ankle early in the second half of Saturday's 64-61 victory over South Carolina after scoring only four points.

"The bad news is he will not play Wednesday and there really is no more timeframe than that. We have to take it one day at a time," Pearl said. "That shouldn't encourage anybody to think that he'll play on Sunday. There's just no way of knowing how it will respond."

The Volunteers (14-5, 2-2), who dropped out of the Top 25 rankings Monday, travel to Kentucky on Sunday — a key game for the Maysville, Ky., native. They follow with a game at home against Georgia on Jan. 31 and go to Florida on Feb. 3.

Pearl said he hasn't determined who would start in place of Lofton. The main choices are junior Jordan Howell, a backup point guard who returned Saturday from a broken right hand, or Josh Tabb, a freshman whose expertise to this point has been on defense.

"Anytime you lose a player, everybody else is going to step up a little bit. Anytime you lose an All-American, everyone has to step up a lot. There's going to be a lot of opportunity," Pearl said.

Pearl called the injury "a pretty good sprain" but would not go as far to say it was a high ankle sprain, which can take longer to heal. A large amount of swelling has prevented doctors from determining whether he has any ligament damage.

"We'll weight-bear today for the first time. The swelling still needs to go down before we're able to evaluate just what kind of ligament damage there was. He turned it over pretty good and you would expect based on looking at the film that he could have some ligament damage because of the sprain, but we just don't know," Pearl said.

Pearl said Lofton was trying to recover from the injury in a "businesslike" and serious manner.

"There probably hasn't been five minutes where he hasn't been iced, elevated, stemmed, anti-inflammatoried or whatever you want to say. This is what he does and he'll do that until he's able to get out on the floor," Pearl said.

Lofton is one of the best 3-point shooters in the country, but he has added driving to the basket more this season. Opponents tend to scheme their defenses around Lofton.

"The thing about Chris is you always use him offensively as a weapon, and it's not always just to shoot the ball, it's also to draw the defense, to draw double teams," Pearl said.

Aside from a different starter replacing Lofton, the Vols could look different if Pearl shuffles the lineup more. Senior Dane Bradshaw has been playing in the post but can play point guard and could do both.

"You could say we became pretty dependent on Chris but when he's your best option you want to go to him as much as possible. We just all have to step up," Bradshaw said after practice Monday.

Auburn coach Jeff Lebo, whose Tigers beat Tennessee last week, said making up for Lofton will be difficult.

"He can take over a game at any point. Against us he didn't score much in the second half then all of a sudden when the game was on the line he might have banged off 10 in a row," Lebo said. "He's a little better athlete than what you anticipate and he's got savvy; he knows how to play."

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