On how inconsistent this team is:
“I did not think we had great mental preparation yesterday getting ready for the game. First half of the game, I did not think we defended the way we are capable of. You have to give them credit. They made shots. But I also thought they got comfortable. We had a couple too many defensive lapses with the wrong guys, transitions threes and giving up too much separation. You have to give them credit. They shot the ball well in the first half. Do I think it let them get comfortable? I do. Then we got behind. I thought we got a little anxious. We have played against teams all year that have played gap defense. We knew full well that would be the adjustment they would make. They were going to get more in the gaps. If you don’t get stops, you are not going to be able to get out in transition as much. They are making baskets, they are going to be able to get back and get their defense set.
“When they are shooting 60 percent, it doesn’t give us a chance to run the way we wanted to. Because we weren’t really moving the ball and moving bodies the way we wanted to or needed to, they were able to stay in the gaps. It closes down offensive rebounding lines. When you are not shooting well, you have to be able to go inside and get some things done. We can’t have drop-off passes and those passes kicked out. You at least have to try to shoot the ball. You have to try to get fouled in those tight-quarter situations. We just turned it over too many times and had too many pass-outs. I don’t think you can do that.”
On if Tennessee is inconsistent in practice:
“I see it. I think it is immaturity, at times, I do. I think you are still trying to get guys to understand. It is a combination. We have a team where we have some young players that I still think are learning what college basketball is all about. You might say by this time of year, they should know it. Do I think they are going to shoot the ball the same every night and play the same? No, but when they’re not, you have to have the other part. When you look at tonight’s game, Kentucky shot it well in the first half from the perimeter. Second half, they went to work inside. Whether they scored, they shot 20 percent in the second half, but they were getting fouled. When you are not making threes, you have to manufacture other ways to score. We didn’t.
“You see sometimes the guys that are the most aggressive think, well, nobody else is trying to do something so I am going to go do it. That is where we are not as good as we need to be as a team. It goes back to consistency. I haven’t really studied the stat sheet, but if you look at their front line. Free throws, (Olivier) Sarr got six of them. I know this, we should have gotten to the free-throw line more. I can see that John (Fulkerson) was 1-for-7. Yves (Pons) was 1-for-7. In games like this, they do need to make themselves more available. We had to go with a small lineup because then you start missing free throws and layups around the rim. You have to try to get some guys in there around the rim that you think are going to get fouled and then make the basket.”
On if he was disappointed in John Fulkerson’s performance:
“You’re always disappointed, concerned or whatever out of your older players because that’s what you expect out of older players. You expect consistency more than anything. Younger guys, you can see them being up and down a bit, but as a team, there hasn’t been one guy that hasn’t been inconsistent. I think we all know that if we can put things together, we’ve got a chance to be a good basketball team — a team that can play with anybody. You have to give Kentucky credit because they have played well the past two weeks, but with that said, I mean really and truly, I could sit here and say just the fact that we got beat by 15 is probably surprising because I thought we were that bad in terms of what we were trying to get done. The ones that you almost have to make in a game like this when you’re struggling from the three — I thought some of the 3’s were taken by the wrong guys at the wrong time. I thought we got stagnant doing that. I don’t think you can get the ball and stare down somebody and then raise up. That’s not how we play. We play better when we move it and get going.
“Overall, just not a good performance. Think about it, we go from scoring 80-something points a couple of times to 55 today, but I can show you where our turnovers — I really believe the first half and those 15 points we gave them, those were probably the difference in the game because it allowed them to get comfortable. They’re going to make some shots because they’ve been shooting the ball well anyway, but we just never put them back on their heels, and even in the second half, believe it or not, we came out one time and Yves had a chance to get a 3. He had a good look at it to cut it to 11, we get a stop, and then we come down and Fulky gets fouled, and if we make those free throws it’s (a nine-point game) and who knows. It could have been a different game, but it wasn’t because we didn’t make those shots. As much as you know the game, when you’re making shots it all looks good. I thought Kentucky was very comfortable in the first half, and I think you have to give them credit because they did make their shots.”
On Tennessee’s upperclassman being inconsistent:
“We knew that we wanted to play really fast, and we felt like we would be able to do some more things shooting the ball, but we also know there are nights when you get great looks and it doesn’t go in. That’s when you have to be able to count on your inside game, and we thought we could do that. We haven’t gotten it. The ones that are frustrating are, you cannot, I don’t think, get drop off passes around the rim and kick them out. I think you have to go up and be strong around the rim, get fouled and finish those plays. Again, we need everybody, but right now more than anything, we need consistency from our older guys. They’ve been through it, and they should understand it.
“I wish I could fix it, I do. We’ve talked about it a lot, and we’ll continue to talk about it. Josiah, with him out the lineup, it changes a lot of what we can do when he’s out there playing one of the post positions in terms of stretching the floor. That gives us a little more space to attack the way we weren’t able to today. We weren’t able to get that spacing because of having four guys on the floor that you definitely have to guard, and you’re not going to get many looks. That’s part of the game. Not taking anything away from them, but again, am I disappointed? I’m very disappointed because I think we should be beyond this point of the inconsistencies that we’re getting.”
On the struggles of Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson:
“I thought they were hesitant. Those guys are young and learning that every game is going to be different. I don’t think there’s any question Kentucky respected their ability to get by them. They were backing off trying to encourage some quick, one-dribble raise up shots or get them going downhill. The scouting report is when Keon gets the ball, go in there because he wants to turn and spin. I thought that they were a little bit hesitant early. Jaden was in there and got too deep at times, and he got one blocked. I don’t know if that changed his mindset, but that’s where you adjust. An eight-foot shot contested by one is better than a four-foot shot contested by two or three. We made a couple of shovel passes and turned them over, which let them get out in transition. It just wasn’t a very clean game for either one of them.”
On if Jaden Springer was feeling fine:
“I don’t think he’s feeling great, to be honest. I’m not making an excuse for him. But do I think he’s feeling great? I don’t. I don’t think he does. That’s part of where we all are. There are a lot of guys that play when not feeling well. Some guys handle it better than others. To be quite honest, you’d have to ask him, but I don’t think he’s feeling great.”
On the status of Josiah-Jordan James’ wrist injury:
“I think he wanted to try to go today, he just felt like he couldn’t do it. It will be up to him, what he feels like he can work through. Whenever he feels like he’s ready, I know he’ll be wanting to get back in and going at it.”
On if his team can’t handle adversity well:
“I don’t know if I would say they don’t handle adversity. I don’t think they’ve handled success very well. When you feel like you’re getting things going, you feel like we’re turning the corner — that shows up more, I think if you saw practice, you would see some of that. But I would say this too: That goes back to really leadership within the framework of what we’re trying to do. Some of that, we talked about, has got to come from within the players. I would say more (than) the adversity, I don’t think we’ve handled success very well. I really don’t. It’s that old adage that if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. And I know yesterday we didn’t get better in terms of what we needed to do with our preparation. That’s frustrating. We talked about it. I watch practice tape everyday. Sometimes twice a day. I made them watch what we did in practice yesterday, showed them that hey, this ain’t going to work. And we honestly came out and played the first half, pretty much how we practiced yesterday. Understand this: It wasn’t very long. If you took each guy’s time when we worked on what we needed to work on, it might have been 30 minutes at most. That’s the frustrating part. Because we want to stay fresh. We want to keep their legs there. But this game is so much more mental than people might think. And we’re not where we need to be mentally yet.”
On Tennessee taking so many mid-range shots:
“To be honest with you, our whole philosophy is that we want to play at three levels. We want to get to the rim, we want to shoot threes, but we’re not afraid to take the midrange game. We’re not, because we think it can be affective. Again, we want to be able to score at all three levels. We’ve been good at it. I don’t think we’re getting what we need at the rim right now. I don’t think it’s really a great sign when you have to go with a four-guard lineup to get a guy down low that is fighting harder to score than your post players are doing. Some of that is simply to get fouled. We’ve got to get fouled. I just thought we were very lethargic. That I wish I could put my finger on right now. All I can go back to, what keeps going to my mind, is exactly what I saw yesterday in practice. In a short practice.”