Everything Rick Barnes said about win over Florida in SEC Tourney

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    Vols head basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the media following Tennessee’s 78-66 win over Florida on Friday afternoon of the SEC Tournament. With the win, UT advances to face top-seeded Alabama at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday with a trip to the SEC title game on the line.

    Barnes discussed the injury John Fulkerson sustained, the defensive performance of Yves Pons, what went well for the Vols against the Gators, facing Alabama on Saturday and much more. Here’s everything Barnes had to say:

    On Florida’s Omar Payne’s elbow to John Fulkerson and if Fulkerson will be available against Alabama on Saturday:

    “Actually, I did not see it. I’d already looked the other way, turned the other way. I didn’t see it. Heard it wasn’t good at all, obviously. They did take him to the hospital just for observation. I think it was more for his eye than anything else. Tomorrow, I don’t know right now if we could say we can count on him. Again, we’ll wait and see. My gut feeling, he took two pretty good licks right there and I’d be surprised if he is available.”

    On Tennessee’s defensive effort against Florida in two games over the last week:

    “A really good team effort. I thought we worked hard the last — well, we’ve always worked hard, but a big emphasis on our ball screen defense, getting up to touch. We didn’t want to get drug out, strung out where we weren’t up there, giving their guards a chance to either split it, drag us down to the baseline. We really wanted to have a confrontation right there at the impact of the ball. For the most part we did. I thought we stayed in our coverage, were disciplined that way when we couldn’t get our primary defense, what we wanted. We were switching out. I thought our guards did a really good job when they got a guy on post down low, sit on the post man’s hip, get in front. Everybody else knew what was happening. Trying to come in and help as much as we could. It’s just really a good team effort. We can still be better. We’re going to have to be better. We just need to adjust. When you have a player, they start putting their head down, that’s when we got to keep backing up in space, force some contested jump shots instead of letting them get fouled or getting to the rim.”

    On what they have to do against Alabama that they didn’t do in the first game:

    “I go back to that game. Yves Pons picked up two quick fouls early in that game. Jaden didn’t play. He was playing well. I think he drove it, if I can remember right, turned his ankle. It got away from us. We didn’t handle it very well. That was really one of the first games I thought where we were down and didn’t know quite how to respond. I think they’ve gotten better. I’d like to think that we’ve gotten better. We’re going to need everybody. If Fulkerson is not available, we’re going to need more guys to step up and help us. We’re going to have to defend a team, I think one of you guys mentioned to Santi, about threes, getting to the rim. Again, we’re going to have to play good offense ourselves, take care of the basketball, not have those on-ball turnovers that lead to easy baskets.”

    On Yves Pons blocking nine shots against Florida:

    “I thought he was terrific. I mean, he was locked in. You could tell it. You could tell the last couple days. From start to the finish, what he had to do down there, the way he plays. I thought he was locked in both ends. Again, he was terrific, he really was. His blocks were great. We told our guys at halftime, Hey, Yves going to come get them, you have to clean it up for them. For the most part in the second half, again, that happened for the most part. I think one of them he went up and tried to block it, we didn’t have the backside sealed down. He was locked in. I kept looking at him asking if he needed a blow. He said, I’m good, I’m good. Just happy for him because, again, he was outstanding.”

    On how big the minutes Uros Plavsic provided were:

    “I think what it shows, you go back all year long, nobody has been more of a teammate, not seeing the floor the way all players would like to. The last couple days in practice, really this time off as we’ve been practicing, getting up and down the floor, playing more, it just started working for him. Really started buying into what we need him to do. He’s been really good in practice. I think his size obviously can be a factor for us. He is a guy that when he’s out there, he does like to get moving on offense, set screens, just get him rolling consistently, getting himself ready to catch the ball. He loves passing the ball, passes well. His minutes and Yves today, they were on the front line. Those were big minutes.”

    On Alabama’s style of play:

    “I think there’s other people — a lot of people that want to shoot the three early. Some people don’t believe in the midrange game. If that’s what they believe in, that’s what they believe in. Obviously analytics, I think they’re really into the analytics where they believe what they’re doing is the right way. Nate has done a terrific job. Coach of the Year, well deserving. He’s got the personnel to do it. Player of the Year. Really, I mean, everything they’ve gotten, they’ve deserved.”

    On John Fulkerson’s eye injury:

    “I don’t really know. I really don’t. But they just said that — they said he was fine, they just were  taking him to the hospital for observation. Somebody mentioned to me about the eye. That’s all I know.”

    On how concerned he is about COVID impacting Tennessee’s postseason like it did to Duke, Virginia and Kansas:

    “I’m not sure, unless you’re on it like we are every day, the stress of getting tested weekly, knowing that the one thing you hate is throughout the whole year, the testing protocol, knowing first thing in the morning, 6:00, you’re going to get a text, all guys are negative or we got a positive. That’s been going on now for, what, four months, five months. Has it been stressful for everybody? No doubt about it. Players included. We’ve tried and will continue to handle it the best way we can, do what we need to do there. But, yeah, it’s been a concern all year for everybody. We know it. I don’t know the protocols at either the Big 12 or the ACC. All I can tell you is I don’t think there’s been a better league in the country from start to finish trying to do things the right way and be on top of everything than the SEC. Again, I admire how diligent they’ve been about everything. To answer your question, I don’t think there’s a coach, a player in the country that doesn’t worry about that every time we go in and get the swab.”

    On if he wishes there was more time between the conference tournaments and NCAA Tournament:

    “I don’t think it would matter. I really don’t. I think we got to proceed as we say we do. Again, I don’t know what their protocol is. I don’t know if it was contact tracing. I have no idea. I don’t know the protocol, what went on there. But, no, it’s like we said when we started the season late, I didn’t think we should. I thought we should have started on time and give us a longer runway. At some point in time it’s got to come to a conclusion regardless. I know every player in the country, staff, it’s been a major concern knowing things like this could happen. Again, I don’t know the whole deal, but I just hope it works for all of us. It has been a long, trying year for everybody For the players again, we talked about it this morning, it was a year ago. We actually had a little placard made up for Jordan Bowden that we put on our bench today because he was the one guy, I remember seeing him in the back of the bus a year ago when we walked out of this building, he was devastated. He couldn’t believe his college career was over with. What we talked about was being grateful for what we’ve been able to have up to this point. Whatever we can get done, be thankful for it, be grateful for it. It’s been a long year for lots of people. We’ve gotten to this point. I just hope we can finish it and finish it strong for everybody. But there still is a lot to be grateful for because of how far we’ve come from a year ago.”

    On the plan against Alabama if Fulkerson can’t play:

    “I haven’t thought about it. But probably. Again, this time of year you got to do what you got to do. Again, I thought Uros was terrific. I like to think if we go to Olivier or E.J. (Anosike), those guys will be ready to roll. Whatever we’re going to have to do, this time of year, one game at a time. You try to win and move on.”

    On the team’s response to the elbow Fulkerson took:

    “They were upset. They were. They were very upset. What we tried to talk about was the emotion of it. I think the technical foul called on Josiah was nothing other than, We’re not going to let this thing get out of control. I don’t think it was that big a deal. Everything can escalate, become a big deal. The fact that the officials were going to tell them, if they’ve told them to shut up and quit talking, they keep doing it, whether it’s a very little thing as just saying, Hey, he threw the ball at my teammate. Don’t throw the ball at my teammate. Referees have a hard enough job. When it gets chippy, players are getting after it, the emotion starts to heat up, it’s a tough game to officiate regardless of that. Our guys have such great respect and love for Fulky, but for each other. We had to calm them down, no doubt about it, because they felt like it was unnecessary. I was glad we were able to get back at it.”