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SOUTH | NO. 12 LONG BEACH STATE VS. NO. 5 TENNESSEE

Mirror-image lineups reflect pretty well for smaller 49ers

March 12, 2007|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

With a three-guard offense, a smallish forward and a big man who stands all of 6 feet 9, Tennessee spent most of this season looking up at opponents.

"We're used to that," Coach Bruce Pearl said.

The Volunteers overcame their lack of size with quickness and shooting, doing both of those things well enough to be 22-10 and earn a No. 5 seeding in the NCAA South Regional.

And that should make for an interesting matchup, if not a footrace, against the No.-12 seeded team, the similarly diminutive Long Beach State.

Tennessee is led by 6-2 guards Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith.

Lofton recovered from a midseason injury to be named the Southeastern Conference's player of the year, scoring 20.6 points a game and making 41% of his three-point shots.

Smith averaged 15 points and made enough from long range to put his team at No. 20 in the nation for three-point scoring.

At the other end of the court, Smith contributed 2.2 steals a game, leading a defense that ranked ninth in the country in that category.

"When we turned the ball over, they scored every time," Arkansas forward Darian Townes said after his team lost to the Volunteers last month.

The addition of freshman guard Ramar Smith gave Tennessee the 11th-ranked offense in the nation, good enough to split its regular-season games with top-seeded Florida and defeat other tournament-bound teams such as Memphis, Texas and Kentucky.

Still, Long Beach State Coach Larry Reynolds likes facing another smallish team.

"We match up much better against a team like this than we would against a Georgetown or Ohio State or someone like that," Reynolds said.

Coming off a loss to Louisiana State in the SEC tournament, Pearl knows what his squad -- without heft inside -- must do to win in the postseason.

"When you get to March and it's tournament time, you've got to be special," the coach said, adding: "A lot of guys have to step up."

david.wharton@latimes.com

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