Rick Barnes met with the media on Thursday afternoon following No. 3 Tennessee’s 19-point win over Arkansas and ahead of Saturday’s matchup with Alabama.
Amongst other things, Barnes discussed his displeasure with how Tennessee performed in the second half against the Razorbacks, the play of his guards, and the Crimson Tide.
Here’s what Barnes had to say.
Tennessee jumped out to a huge lead over Arkansas on Tuesday night, leading by as many as 25 in the first half. Despite zero points in six minutes from Admiral Schofield – who sat on the bench due to foul trouble – the Vols led 55-34 at the break.
The second half had a much different tone, which drew the ire of Barnes following the game.
“I give Arkansas a lot of credit,” Barnes said on Thursday. “They kept playing hard, they kept rebounding, they kept running hard. We weren’t really doing what we needed to do to get better.”
What Barnes is referring to is the Razorbacks out-scoring the Volunteers 53-51 in the second half. Tennessee’s defense lacked intensity in the second half, and as a result, Isaiah Jones, Mason Jones, and Reggie Chaney combined for 34 points.
“We didn’t execute the way we really need to and the way we are going to have to if we want to continue to get better,” Barnes said. “I think after each game, there’s always something you can find, and you hope it sinks in with them in terms of what we have to do to get better.”
Just 17 days into January, Barnes is battling his team each and every day to not become complacent. The Vols have done a good job of treating each game as if their lives are on the line, but it seemed as if complacency did set it for a moment during the second half of the Arkansas game.
“I don’t care about scoring margins or anything like that,” Barnes said. “You want to win obviously. But you want to play well. You want to do some things because you realize this game is a game of habits.
“If you start letting down, it will snowball on you quicker than you might imagine.”
As a result of Tennessee’s poor play, the intensity during practice on Thursday was turned up quite a bit. If it weren’t for NCAA rules, the Vols would have had an intense practice yesterday as well.
“We were off yesterday,” Barnes said. “We were required to take it off. We might not have if it wasn’t required to. We obviously met with guys individually and talked with them.
“Today (Thursday), we will come back in a little bit and talk about it and come out and see where we improve on those things.”
Dynamic guard duo
With Schofield scoring zero points in the first half and Grant Williams making just two field goals on the night, it was Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner who carried the load.
The duo combined for 40 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the floor and 8-of-10 from the 3-point line. Turner scored a game-high and season-high 21 points while Bowden dropped in 19. Turner added two rebounds, two steals, and an assist.
“Whether it’s confidence or just focused on doing his job, the last game is the first game he really shot it,” Barnes said of Bowden – who is averaging 19.0 points over his last four games. “He’s done a great job, of, one, letting the offense work.
“He’s gotten out and ran and got those kind of baskets that you need, where you just get to the rim and get layups. I think he’s working hard defensively. I think of all our guys in the last four games, he’s probably been as locked in as any of them in terms of trying to do what he needs to be doing on both ends.”
As for Turner, Barnes doesn’t notice the offensive production right off the bat. He notices Turner’s defensive ability and what he’s bringing on that end of the floor.
“I still think he can be one of the best defensive guys in the country if he wants to be,” Barnes said of Turner. “On the ball, he gets a little too impatient, trying to take the ball away from the offensive player, and he puts himself in foul trouble.”
On to the next
Tennessee (15-1, 4-0 SEC) now welcomes Alabama (11-5, 2-2 SEC) to Thompson-Boling, as the Volunteers look for their 12th-straight win and 19th consecutive home win.
The Crimson Tide are coming off of an 80-70 win over Missouri on the road. Five-star freshman Kira Lewis Jr. leads the way for Alabama at 14.4 points per game and 2.8 assists. Three different Alabama players – Lewis (26), John Petty (31) and Tevin Mack (23) – have made at least 20 three-pointers.
“They’ve (Alabama) got four guys that can shoot the ball extremely well,” Barnes said. “They run well. They have different guys that can bring the ball up the floor.
“Transition defense is huge. Ball-screen defense will be big again, guarding your man one-on-one. Every game those are the things that go up there. They’ll have some schemes that we have seen.”
Last year, No. 15 Tennessee walked into Coleman Coliseum with a six-game winning streak and were blown out of the gym, 78-50. It was the Vols’ worst loss of the season. As a team, Tennessee shot 28 percent and were out-scored 26-8 in the paint.
Though Williams had 16 points, he and his teammates couldn’t slow down Alabama big man Donta Hall. The senior posted a double-double, scoring 17 points and hauling in 11 rebounds for the Crimson Tide. This season, Hall is averaging 11.1 points and 8.8 rebounds.
Tennessee remembers quite well how things went down in Tuscaloosa last season.
“They (Tennessee) have great memories,” Barnes said of his team. “Some things they bring up before we get ready to play other teams, they do that. Alabama is a tough team for us.
“Last year they really beat us good. They controlled the entire game. I think we gave up eight dunks to one player, if I remember right. You’re not going to win many games doing that. But that’s over and done with. They’re a different team, we’re a different team. But we’re going to have to continue to worry about the things we’re not doing as well right now.”
Saturday afternoon’s game between Tennessee and Alabama is scheduled to tip at 2:05 p.m. ET on ESPN2.