Eighth-ranked Tennessee comes to town knowing it must stop Temple's leading scorer, Dionte Christmas.

Christmas was held to only two points last Saturday in a 65-59 win at Penn State, but Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl plans to assign top freshmen Scotty Hopson and Cameron Tatum to cover the 6-foot-5 senior guard.

"That's a big challenge for those guys," Pearl told the Chattanooga Free-Press. "It would be for anybody."

"They are relentless and well-coached, and they buy into what they do," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said of Tennessee yesterday. "They play hard, and we have to match their intensity. They will go 10 deep. Hopefully, we'll play well."

Christmas, who finished 17 points below his season average against the Nittany Lions with his first two-point outing since his freshman year, will try to return to form against the Volunteers at the Liacouras Center today at noon.

"Winning without Dionte being our leading scorer can help our team," Dunphy said.

Tennessee (6-1), the sixth top-10 team to visit the arena since it opened in 1997, handed Temple an 80-63 loss in Knoxville, Tenn., last season.

Tennessee has a 3-2 lead in the teams' all-time series. Host Temple took the first meeting in 1944 by 33-21. Tennessee won at home the next year, 43-36, and in the 1969 National Invitation Tournament, the Volunteers won, 63-58. More recently, the Owls dropped an 11-6 decision on the road in a 1973 slowdown game.

These days, the Volunteers' only concern with a shot clock is how fast they can put the ball in the hoop. The team is averaging 87.1 points per game.

"Every game takes on a different personality, and we'll see what personality this game takes," said Dunphy, whose 4-3 squad is scoring 68.9 points per game. "I never go into a game thinking we have to score X number of points."

The only loss on Tennessee's record was an 83-74 defeat to Gonzaga on Nov. 30 in the Old Spice Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The Volunteers are a deep team that includes double-figure scorers in 6-7 junior forward Tyler Smith (17.4), 6-7 junior forward J.P. Prince (11.3), 6-6 Tatum (10.7), and 6-9 junior forward Wayne Chism (10.0).

Smith, who averages 5.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists, had the first triple-double in Tennessee school history with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in an 87-69 win over visiting Asheville on Dec. 3. That triumph gave Pearl the 400th win of his 17-year career.

Now in his fourth year at Tennessee, Pearl previously guided the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and Division II Southern Indiana.

While the Volunteers' starting lineup has varied so far, 6-10 sophomore Brian Williams (8.1 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game), 6-8 freshman Renaldo Woolridge (5.9 ppg., 3.4 rpg.), 6-7 Hopson (9.6 ppg.), and 6-2 junior Bobby Maze (8.4 ppg., 5.1 assists per game) also are in Pearl's rotation.

Expected to join Christmas in Temple's starting lineup are 6-4 guard Ryan Brooks (13.1 ppg.), 7-0 center Sergio Olmos (10.7 ppg., 3.7 rpg.), 6-9 forward Lavoy Allen (10.0 ppg., 8.3 rpg.), and 6-4 guard Semaj Inge (9.9 ppg.).

Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum at 215-854-2583 or katum@phillynews.com.