Tennessee has been waiting for Chris Lofton to heat up. That time might be here.
Coming off his best performance of the season, Lofton looks to help the seventh-ranked Volunteers win at Alabama for the first time in 10 years when the SEC rivals meet Tuesday night.
Lofton, the preseason All-American who averaged 20.8 points in 2006-07 and has shot better than 41 percent from 3-point range in each of his previous three seasons at Tennessee, posted a season-high 27 points in the Vols’ 85-69 home win over Georgia on Saturday.
While the victory helped Tennessee (17-2, 4-1) bounce back from a 72-66 road loss at Kentucky last Tuesday, it provided another sign that Lofton might be breaking out of a shooting slump that has consumed him much of the season.
Lofton was 9-for-17 from the field and 7-for-13 from 3-point range, where he is shooting a career-low 36.3 percent.
“It is great to see Chris Lofton play so well,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said of his senior guard, who still averages a team-leading 14.5 points per game. “He was penetrating and not turning it over. Lofton put it on himself to have a good game.”
It came after he had 22 points on 7-for-14 shooting, including 5-for-10 from beyond the arc, in the loss to Kentucky. Lofton had just two games of 20 or more points prior to last week.
“Move around,” Lofton said of what he needed to break the slump. “I got caught standing around a lot at the beginning of the season.”
After helping the Vols shoot 57.1 percent - 45.0 percent from 3-point range - against Georgia, Lofton looks to lead Tennessee to a second straight win over Alabama (12-8, 1-4).
He had 20 points as the Vols snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide with a 69-66 overtime win at home on Feb. 21 in the teams’ only meeting last season.
To earn consecutive wins, however, Tennessee must avoid a fifth straight loss at Alabama since an 84-70 victory on Jan. 28, 1998. This will be the Vols’ first trip to Tuscaloosa since Lofton scored 22 points in a 92-79 loss on Feb. 18, 2006.
Snapping its road skid at Alabama could be easier this time for Tennessee.
The Tide won 97-77 over Auburn on Saturday to snap a season-high four-game losing streak and earn their first conference victory.
Center Richard Hendrix had 20 points with eight rebounds and Brandon Hollinger added 18 points for Alabama, which had five players score 16 points or more on its way to its highest-scoring game of the season.
The Tide had averaged 59.0 points in their previous three contests.
“With this kind of win we want to take our intensity into (Tuesday’s) game,” Hollinger said. “The intensity we played with and how hard all of our guys played, that’s what we want to take into the game on Tuesday.”
The 6-foot-9, 255-pound Hendrix, who leads the team with 19.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, was held to just 10 points, but had 10 boards in last season’s loss to Tennessee.
Alabama, which has lost three of its last five at home, is 0-3 against ranked teams this season, losing to Texas A&M, Georgetown and Clemson.