Vols head basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the media following No. 10 Tennessee’s 81-61 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday night inside of Thompson-Boling Arena.
Barnes discussed what his team did well in the 20-point win, slowing down Vanderbilt guard Scotty Pippen Jr., the play of Keon Johnson, the lineup he used to closeout the game with, John Fulkerson missing practice this week and much more.
Here’s everything Barnes had to say following Tennessee’s win:
On what practice looked like this week after Tuesday’s game against Vanderbilt in Nashville was postponed:
“The thing that happened with practice, when we got back on Tuesday, we did come in and, considering we had bussed three hours back, we had a good practice. It was good. Our guys were excited about it. I actually had made comment that I wish we would’ve gotten to play because I thought we had a really good bounce that day to us. And Wednesday was our day off. We came back Thursday and again had a good practice. John Fulkerson had missed all of that because of having his wisdom teeth taken out. I thought it really allowed Olivier (Nkamhoua) and EJ (Anosike) — then Uros (Plavsic) ends up turning his ankle during that time — it allowed us to play with that smaller lineup a little bit more. I thought that part of it was really good. We came back yesterday, to be honest with you, we didn’t have a great practice. I told Fulky we’re not going to get bogged down trying to get the ball down there, force the ball down there. He’s going to have to pickup the speed that we want to play with. I thought today he did a pretty good job of that. He got winded. There’s no doubt he was winded. Yesterday we obviously didn’t have a long workout, being the day before the game.
“I thought we closed the game out well. They’re a really hard team to guard because coach (Jerry) Stackhouse does a great job. He does a great job of what he wants to run. He sees how you’re going to guard it, then he starts tweaking it and doing those type things, where he’s making those adjustments. We knew that he had to really do a good job on Scotty Pippen Jr. The first half I thought we did a nice job. The second half, not so much. We talked about it at halftime. He was going to come out and continue to get even more aggressive. We felt like we had a couple defensive breakdowns where we were trying to go for home run plays, opposed to staying solid and staying on the ground, going to try to get steals and giving them kick-out three’s. But overall we knew it was going to be a hard fought game and it was.”
On tying Phog Allen and Don Haskins on the all-time wins list with 719:
“Honestly, I don’t think about it. I love what I do. I really do. All that means is I’ve had a lot of good players, I’ll tell you that. Some great players, obviously. Great coaches with me. Been at some great universities where they’ve allowed us to build the kind of programs we want to build. But when those things happen, it’s a compliment to everyone. I love what I do. If I ever get to where I don’t enjoy practice, I’ll know it’s time to step away from it. But I truly love coming to practice everyday, I love the game of basketball. I love the fact that I get to learn something new everyday. I love the way the game continues to change and see if we can keep up with it, do the things that we need to do. And I love watching players get better as a group. That’s something we take pride in with our staff. I’ve been blessed. I thank the good Lord for the opportunity he’s given me at so many different places, working for so many different, wonderful people. I’ve had some terrific bosses.”
On the decision to play a smaller lineup in the second half:
“We like it. Sometimes you do it and sometimes teams will match you that way. It goes back. We’ve got to get more production out of EJ and Olivier. We put them in, both in, and we had some momentum. And to be quite frank, Olivier gave up three offensive rebounds. EJ had some chances to score some baskets and missed free throws. Those guys, we love them and we think they have a great future ahead of them, but we need them to be productive right now. We just need him to do a couple different things right now. If that’s not working, we do have the versatility to play small. We knew we were going to do that at some point in time anyway. And it’s a long way to go between now and the end of the year and I think you’ll see us continue to, whatever the game calls for, we’ll go that way.”
On what it does for the team when junior guard Victor Bailey Jr. is making three’s like he did in the second half:
“I think you need a player like VJ that can do that. We watch him do it. He does it in practice. I’ll tell you this, VJ, Keon (Johnson) and Jaden (Springer), most of the time, again we’re watching minutes because we want to stay fresh, we really think we can wear some people down if we watch their minutes, Santi included. But most of those guys, we’re more concerned about them defensively because when they get winded, that’s when they breakdown first. And they sometimes get lost on the offensive end. That’s what is exciting to us, that we think we can get so much better the more consistent those guys can get. But VJ is a guy that, prior to the season starting, he was shooting 45 percent from the 3-point line. So we’ve watched him do it. For the most part, when he takes good shots, we think they’re going in because we see it a lot. There’s no doubt we need that from him. But overall it’s just consistency on the offensive end is where we have to get better.”
On how he felt Tennessee defended Vanderbilt sophomore guard Scotty Pippen Jr.:
“You look at Scotty Pippen Jr., again, they’ve got to feel wonderful as a staff about how much they have helped him improve. He handles the ball a lot for them, and their going to use him a lot in ball screens. They do a lot of different things to get him in different spots on the floor so he can effective. He’ll get in there, and he got us in foul trouble because we’re not disciplined enough to stay down. When we left our feet, he would spray the ball around because people would come over to help too much sometimes.”
On why sophomore forward Olivier Nkamhoua was one of the first two Vols off the bench:
“The reason why Olivier was there was because of what he did in practice, and what was disappointing is what he had done in practice was exactly what he didn’t do today. He was rebounding the ball, and he earned it. He had outplayed those other guys during the week. Uros had gotten hurt and missed a day, but that’s why we put him there because we felt like he had earned it. I’m disappointed that he didn’t carry it over because he is a guy that we think can help us a lot, but he is going to have to do it when the lights come on.”
On how he felt Tennessee did defending the three-point line:
“Vanderbilt is a very difficult team to get ready for because they really work hard and do a really terrific job at the point of impact on ball screens, but then they really attack your help defense, your gap defense. It puts a lot of pressure on you because if you don’t handle the point of attack at the ball they’re going to get you. There are so many options for them to get down the court. What they do screening the backside of you defense, we worked hard on it, and the one thing we did do after we didn’t get to play was spend two days really working on ball-screen defense. We felt like we needed that. We wish Fulky would have been out there to be a part of that, but we worked hard for two days trying to get better, and that would help us guarding the 3-point line by guarding the ball.”
On why Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse has been unable to get the final results that match his team’s energy and effort:
“When you look at it, they’ve probably had to deal with COVID issues as much as anybody. I don’t even know if they were even able to get back in the summer. I can only tell you this: Jerry is a terrific coach. I brag about a play he did one time while he was at Carolina — one of the greatest plays I’ve seen in college basketball — and you watch his career with what he’s done as a player and as a coach, he can coach. You can tell he’s building that organization the way he wants it. There’s no doubt about that. I think he gets as much out of his players as anybody I’ve ever coached against. I think they’re only going to get better. This is a really tough league. I go back when I’m watching tape, and there is such a fine line. I don’t know if we ever know what goes on in somebody’d program with COVID. We were supposed to play Tuesday night, and I don’t think they were able to get back on the floor until Thursday. With a one-day prep, I think it’s difficult, but everybody is going to have to deal with issues like that. We had to do it a different way. We’re trying to keep ourselves in rhythm, and sometime you do a little bit too much that way. There is no doubt that he can coach basketball at any level, anywhere, any time, any place.”
On how he thought freshman guard Keon Johnson played:
“I think he was really good. Sometimes I’m probably unrealistic in my expectations of all these guys because I’ve been around them and I know how hard they work. Young guys are young guys. We put him in the middle when they were pressing because we think he can go and he’s a playmaker, but he has to learn to make the right decisions. That’s part of it. I took him out twice tonight because he went for steals and gave up baskets because he’s trying to make a spectacular play to get out and go dunk the ball. That will just happen, and that goes back to discipline. That’s part of our job as a staff to continue teaching him that part of the game. He works hard, and I can say the same thing about Jaden. Defensively, his discipline. Both of them do a terrific job, but then they get tired a little bit and they start going back to leaving their feet, fouling, those kinds of deals that we can’t have, but they’re young. We’ve only played 11 games, and normally by now we would have played probably another seven or eight games, which would make a huge difference, but that’s not where it is. We’re happy with those guys, but from my point of view and our coaching staff’s point of view, we have high expectations and, honestly, we want more out of them.”
On if Johnson has reached a point where he’s not thinking as much while he’s playing:
“Whoever said he was thinking? I’m just kidding. With Keon, he can guard. Jaden (Springer) — it is hard for me to talk about one without the other because both of those guys, they really have a great knack to guard the ball. They do. I think they have to continue to think. I don’t think anybody can play this game if they don’t think. I would say to you, we want them to think more. Just like he did a great job at the start of the game. He had some great possessions, then at the start of the second half not so much. That is where he has to continue to understand momentum and the things we talked about halftime is exactly what they came out and did. He was in a situation where whether he was slow getting started out of the gates, we had a mix-up really early. Then he goes for a steal and fouls. Gives them baskets there. I don’t think you can play this game if you don’t think.
“I don’t want guys to be out there (thinking) — and when I am talking about thinking, I am talking about executing what we are supposed to execute. I don’t want them thinking about things that aren’t important. Where I would say he is not thinking is when he is trying to go for steals. We want him to pick his spots there. Up to this point, he has picked the wrong time to do it and he has given up baskets there. That will come with playing time. It will come with experience and realizing he is playing against more better players than he has ever played against. They can burn you if you make little mistakes. Santi made one of those tonight where he totally left his man wide open — a good shooter. He thought his guy was going to spin back, but it didn’t matter if he spun back. We had it guarded. Those are the kind of plays as a team that we have got to get better defensively. Keon and Jaden, both of them, they can guard the ball. We just have to get more consistency out of them.”
On how he felt Tennessee defended Vanderbilt’s ball screens:
“You have to give a lot of credit to the coaching staff for the prep. I think the respect we have for them guarding the ball. I go back and I think that coach Stackhouse teaches the ball screen and I think there are a lot of teams in college that run the ball screen, but they don’t utilize the way that you really can at some point. They are looking to hit you with it, hard. Which is good for us to get prepared for because we are getting ready to play teams that screen it even more with different guys.
“They normally use Scotty Pippen in the ball screen and he is really good at knowing what to do. If you get out to far, he will split it. He gives you a lot of different looks. Coach Stackhouse moves him around a lot and runs him off a lot of triple and double screens to get him where he wants to get him. Not only is it important at the point of impact, it goes back to those guys getting in those early tags — high tags, low tags and then being able to know we have to get out to guard 3-point shooters. Knowing you are going to get hit some times and the talking part of it is important. The communication. We worked hard on that a couple days. Really worked hard on just guarding a lot of motion into ball screens. We had actually done in getting ready for the game Tuesday. From a standpoint of practicing something that we probably needed a lot of work on, we had a week to do it.”