After Tennessee’s 86-69 loss to Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday night, junior forward Grant Williams and head coach Rick Barnes both said the Vols played “selfish” against the Wildcats. Barnes said it was the most selfish he had seen UT play all season, and Williams said it was the most selfish the Vols had played in his three years in the program.
Tennessee finished with a season-low 11 assists and a season-low 26 rebounds against Kentucky. The Vols also jacked up 25 threes — their most attempts from distance in two months — and only made seven of them.
Barnes explained to reporters on Monday that when he said his team played “selfishly” on Saturday, he didn’t mean that they were trying to get their own stats up at the expense of the team. What he meant was that all five players on the court were pressing too hard individually instead of playing as a unit.
“Well, when I say selfish, I should probably say, we got to a point where we weren’t in sync, we never settled in on offense,” Barnes explained during his press conference on Monday. “Every guy said at some point, ‘I’ve got to make something happen’ as opposed to ‘we’ve got to stay together and work the game.
“I don’t mean selfish from ‘I’ve got to get my points.’ It’s like ‘I’ve got to make something happen,’ as opposed to saying, ‘we’ve got to make something happen as a team.’ We never got all five guys that were on the court on the same page at the same time.”
Tennessee prided themselves on being a very “team-first” squad this year. The Vols entered Saturday’s contest against Kentucky with the highest assist per game average in the SEC, and they had the best shooting percentage as well.
But they abandoned what got them this far, what helped them win a program-record 19-straight games. And Kentucky took advantage of that, beating the Vols by 17 points.
Barnes said that his team has responded well to the embarrassing loss, and he’s been pleased with the maturity that one of his players in particular has shown.
“When we walked in and asked the team, ‘Do you feel any different today than you did two days ago? A week ago?’ We won a lot of a games in a row, and I thought one of the most mature answers I’ve ever heard was when Jordan Bone said, ‘Yes coach, I do feel different, because I’m really excited about going to practice tomorrow,'” Barnes stated. “That’s what he said, ‘I’m excited about practice. We have to get better, you’ve been saying it.’ That was one of the most mature things I’ve heard from anybody in a long, long time.
“We felt like if they really, really wanted to learn from this they would be eager to watch the tape and see themselves doing things that they know they shouldn’t be doing.”
Bone was one of the few Vols who didn’t have a dreadful night on the court against Kentucky, finishing with a team-high 19 points and dishing out six assists. He was 3-of-4 from three and 8-of-13 overall from the field, though he did turn the ball over three times.
Somewhat surprisingly, though, Bone had the second-worst plus/minus on the team on Saturday. He finished with a -12, trailing only Jordan Bowden’s -25.
No Vol had a positive plus/minus on Saturday. Only Derrick Walker (0) didn’t record a negative plus/minus, and he only played for two minutes.
Part of the reason the Vols got blown out by Kentucky and why none of UT’s players were a positive influence on the floor was because they failed to get rebounds and create opportunities for themselves. The Vols were out-rebounded 39-26 by the Wildcats, and Tennessee managed only nine offensive rebounds compared to 12 by Kentucky.
Rebounding and a lack of high quality defensive effort has been an issue for the Vols for the past several weeks, actually. But Tennessee hasn’t played a good enough team in the last couple weeks for those problems to cost them.
On Saturday, it came back to bite Tennessee. Hard.
“We have been talking about it, and I talk about it with you guys — rebounding. We talked about it, talked about it, talked about it,” Barnes said. “But yet, we’re winning games. If they didn’t take to it, they have to now. That’s what it gets down to.”
Saturday marked the third time in Tennessee’s last four games that their opponent out-rebounded them, and it was the sixth time in their last 10 contests that their opponent pulled down more rebounds than them.
Against teams like West Virginia, Florida, and Missouri, Tennessee could get away with that. But against a team like Kentucky and against the teams they’re going to face in the coming weeks, that won’t fly.
Barnes says his players realized they were coasting and getting by with being a little lax. He said they admitted that to him, and that’s a testament to their maturity.
Now, they have to go and fix it.
“They would all tell you, in their own mind, some way some how, they were getting lulled into thinking we could just get by with what we were doing,” Barnes said. “I think that’s a human reaction. The fact that they are able to admit it, that’s where the maturity comes in.
“They were able to see that we were beaten soundly and thoroughly because we didn’t do the things that go into winning.”