With a challenging two-game stretch ahead before opening SEC play, Tennessee received a big scare its last time out.
Wayne Chism appeared to have seriously injured his back, but the 6-foot-9 center is expected to play on Saturday for the 14th-ranked Volunteers when they visit defending national champion Kansas in the first meeting between the programs.
Chism has been a big part Tennessee’s success and is coming off one of his best games of the season in Monday’s 89-62 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. He finished with a game-high 18 points and a season-high 15 rebounds, but he left Volunteers (9-2) holding their breath after a frightening moment late in the game.
With 5:12 remaining, Chism landed hard on his back under the basket after blocking a shot. Play was delayed for several minutes as Chism was strapped to a board, placed in a neck brace and taken out of the arena on a stretcher.
The junior was taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center for testing on his head and neck, and was diagnosed with a bruised spine and elbow. Chism was released from the hospital Tuesday, returned to practice Wednesday and is expected to be back for this game.
“We’re all thankful that Wayne’s injury does not appear to be serious,” coach Bruce Pearl said in a statement. “There was a lot of praying going on when he went down, and with some 21,000 Vol fans hoping he was going to be all right, those prayers seem to have been answered.”
Chism is second on the team in scoring (11.8 ppg) and among the SEC leaders in rebounding (8.5 rpg), and the Volunteers need him to anchor their interior game as they head into a difficult stretch.
After facing Kansas (9-3), which owns the nation’s fourth-longest home winning streak at 31 games, Tennessee hosts No. 16 Gonzaga on Wednesday before conference play begins at Georgia on Jan. 10. Gonzaga handed the Vols their first loss of the season in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando on Nov. 30.
While Chism may play limited minutes against the Jayhawks, Tennessee hopes J.P. Price can increase his playing time.
Price, the team’s third-leading scorer (10.9), returned Monday after missing the previous three games with an ankle injury. He finished with eight points on 4-of-6 shooting in a season-low 14 minutes.
The Vols boast one of the top offenses in the nation, averaging 84.5 points, and face a team that is tough to score upon on their home court.
Kansas, which hasn’t lost at Allen Fieldhouse since a 69-66 defeat to then-No. 10 Texas A&M on Feb. 3, 2007, is allowing an average of 57.1 points on 35.1 percent shooting in eight games in Lawrence this season.
The Jayhawks’ latest win there came Tuesday, when they set a season low in points allowed and held Albany to 30.0 percent from the floor in a 79-43 victory.
It was their first game since squandering a nine-point second-half lead in an 84-67 loss at Arizona on Dec. 23.
“We kind of got our swagger back. We had a lot of energy,” center Cole Aldrich said. “We got rested over Christmas break and we all came back with the mindset that we wanted to get better. We need to take those baby steps to continue to get better.”
Aldrich finished with 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting on Tuesday, and made up for Sherron Collins’ quiet night. Collins, the Jayhawks’ leading scorer, was held to a season-low seven points - nearly 10 below his average.
Kansas, which still has games against Siena and Michigan State before its Big 12 schedule begins, is in danger of losing four non-conference games in a single season for the first time since 2005-06. The Jayhawks went 21-0 in such contests last season, including six wins in the NCAA tournament en route to the championship.