No. 7 Tennessee defeated No. 12 Missouri 73-53 on Wednesday night in Colombia to begin conference play in the win column.
Barnes discussed Yves Pons’ great performance, Tennessee’s fast start, UT’s half-court defense against Missouri’s half-court offense, if his team has a killer instinct and Tennessee only taking seven three-point shots.
Here’s everything Barnes had to say:
On if he was surprised by how locked in Tennessee was to begin the game:
“I don’t know if I would say surprised. But when you go on the road for the first time with some young players, a new team every year — against a team you have great respect for, that you know is going to fight and make it hard for you every bounce, every pass — we were pleased. I do think that overall our guys did a terrific job sticking with the game plan. (Missouri) made some adjustments. Then we had to make some adjustments too, for the way we had been playing defense and do what we did tonight, we’re proud of our guys for doing it. It was a nice win for us. But we can get better and we’re going to have to get better.”
On Tennessee’s defensive performance:
“Overall, good. Other than the fact that we put them on the free-throw line 30 times, where they were able to get by us and put us in rotations. We slapped a little bit too much. Just got on the side of the ball a little bit. Not many breakdowns, in terms of ball-screen defense was better than it was in our last time out. That was a big emphasis tonight, in terms of trying to get the rotations that we wanted.”
On senior forward Yves Pons’ performance:
“Thought that Yves Pons was terrific. He is becoming the player that we know he is and that we want him to be. If you could’ve heard the reception that he got when he came off the TV interview into the locker room, it would show you the respect his teammates have for him. He was terrific tonight. He was the guy that, when he plays like that, above the rim, cleaning up things, fix-it plays, just really good. We picked up some charges where our guards moved our feet some. Moved their feet well. Like I said, we just have to continue to do it without putting people on the line 30 times.”
On if that Yves Pons performance was what he meant when he said last week that they needed more out of Pons moving forward:
“No doubt. I think he got in his own head a little bit when he was missing some 3-point shots. He’s going to make those. I’m going to tell you, when he plays the way he plays tonight, we actually called a play that we isolated him a few times tonight on the left side of the floor. (Missouri) backed up and he still got by and had a couple beautiful plays at the rim. I actually told him we’re going with that play again and I want you to raise up and shoot the three.
“We didn’t get it started, Keon (Johnson) didn’t get it going the right way. But again, he was terrific. I think it’s a big boost for him mentally. He’s a guy that we know, like John (Fulkerson), I thought John did some good things. I thought John held onto the ball too much. But he’s another guy that we can play through. We’ve got a number of guys like that. We’re all just really excited for Yves. For a guy that works as hard as he works, and does the things he works, as a team and a staff you just get excited when the guys brings it like he did tonight.”
On Pons attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line:
“That’s where he was before the shutdown. That’s what had us somewhat baffled, to be quite honest with you. That’s how he was playing before we had to close it down. But when he came back, and I think what happened during that time, he spent so much time in the gym. And when you’re in the gym as much as he is, yeah, you can work on some game shots, game spots, but players have a tendency to spend a lot of time shooting threes. And for whatever reason he got in that mindset. And he can shoot it. Yves Pons is a really good shooter. But he shot, what, two or three air balls the last couple weeks. And I kept telling him, man, just do the things you’re good at and that will come naturally to you. And tonight he did. And he looked, no question, like he was the best player on the court.”
On Tennessee’s half-court defense against Missouri’s half-court offense:
“The one thing we knew we had to do was get back and get set so we could play in the half-court. They really run the ball. They got us early, very first play of the game. We hit a three, Santi (Vescovi) didn’t get back, because we normally jump up there. Cuonzo (Martin) had them ready and they put it on us as anybody could put it on somebody. Once our goal was to do just that, to get back and get our defense back so we could play against their halfcourt offense, because they can be very lethal in the open court. We knew we wanted to get back. But we didn’t want to give up our offensive rebounding at the sake of sending more guys back. Overall, it was a really good team effort defensively.”
On if this team has a killer instinct:
“I don’t know if you’d call it a killer instinct. There’s still a lot about our team that we’re learning. I don’t know. I just know that we talked about coming out at halftime knowing what we were going to have to do, because of the respect we have for Missouri. We knew if we let them get it going and get out in transition, they could put up a lot of points quick. We knew we didn’t want to do that.
“But on the offensive end we wanted to continue to play fast ourselves, but we wanted to be smart and not turn it over, not take quick, bad shots, but stay in the rhythm of our offense. They make it so difficult to get some of the things going . They had us pushed out there pretty far. They do a good job pressuring the ball. We missed some people early inside, but they were ready early for some of our main sets that we like to run. I think you have to give Cuonzo and his staff a lot of credit. They know us. When you get into league play, people have a feel for how you want to do things. They did a nice job guarding some of the things that we like to run.”
On taking just seven three-point shots:
“We’re going to play inside-out. I will say this, I thought we turned down (shots). When we took Josiah (Jordan James) out one time, I said hey man, you’ve got to shoot it. You’re open. Like I said, we’re going to have Yves shoot it. I think our players like each other. They want to move the ball. We talk about going from a good shot to a great shot. Santi, like I mentioned, he went in there and did make a pass, but he puts guys in a tough situation. Where if he’ll put it on the rim he’ll have a better chance to do something with it.”
On Pons’ defensive intelect:
“What he is, he wants to be good at it, which I think is the best thing about him. He really wants to take pride in it. And what I will tell you, he can get so much better. He really can. But he is a player that we know he can guard 1-5 spots. We were talking about maybe putting him on (Jeremiah) Tilmon a little bit, but we like the fact that he can come over and clean some things up. And he likes doing that. But whatever we ask him to do, he’s going to do it. He’ll guard a point guard if we ask him to do it. We haven’t done it to this point. But if we felt like somebody was getting comfortable against us, which will happen at some point in time, he’ll be the guy that we’ll say go do your thing. And he embraces it.”
On Pons defending the pick-and-roll, and then nearly stealing a pass:
“I think that’s where Yves has gotten better. He’s not just help and recover, it’s the help and make a play in the gap. We talk about being active in those gaps. We really place an emphasis on to deflect, not just going back on your closeout if we can get a piece of it. And again he’s gotten so much better with it. He really has. We actually made some pretty nice plays in the gap as a team, overall, to get us out in transition a little bit.”