Everything Rick Barnes Said About Memphis Cancellation, Arizona Matchup

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    Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes met with the media on Monday morning to talk about the week that was and the week ahead. One of the main topics of conversation was around the Memphis cancellation on Saturday morning in Nashville. Barnes gave his thoughts on the situation, but he also spoke about how he felt like the Tennessee team handled everything on Saturday.

    Additionally, Barnes spoke about the Vols’ upcoming game against No. 6 Arizona in Knoxville this Wednesday night. Barnes talked about the importance of a game like Arizona, especially at this point in the season as the Vols’ final non-conference game before the SEC schedule starts.

    Below is everything Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said to the Knoxville media on Monday morning.

    On if he was given any additional explanation from Memphis after Saturday’s cancellation…

    “I don’t know anything that happened from their point of view. All I want to do is hit it from our side. Fifteen of our 17 players are vaccinated, 88 percent. That includes every single one of our rotational players. Our guys want to play. From the beginning, I give a lot of credit to our administrative staff, making sure our guys understood the vaccination, what needed to happen there.

    “Now, going from this point forward, do you play the game or not, we were there to play the game. But with that said, right now, SEC play is way too important for us going forward. Plus we have the No. 1 NET-ranking team coming in here in two days. We’re not going to risk scheduling a team we know has many unvaccinated players. That would be irresponsible on our part. It could happen again. We wouldn’t do that, whether it would be Memphis or anybody else. We had people call us after the game, after the cancellation the other day, saying can you play tomorrow? If we had known earlier, we probably would have (scheduled a game for Sunday). But the question we would’ve asked, where are you with vaccination? I don’t think people call around and ask those questions unless they know they’re good there.

    “We burned approximately $30,000 from our budget. But to me, we obviously don’t want to do that, but the worst part is our fans. As bad as I felt for our players, I feel worse for our fans. We had a great turn out with our fanbase. We love going to Nashville. But I hurt for them, for the money they spent. Obviously they can get ticket (money) back, but all the other costs, they can’t get back. We had 12 games remaining against top-50 KenPom opponents. That ranking of those opponents equal 56.4 percent (of the remaining schedule). With that said, we’re focused on Arizona and getting ready for SEC play. To answer your question, we know nothing other than what you guys would tell us, or an article that somebody could write.”

    See Also from RTI: Penny Hardaway Admits He ‘Misspoke’, Comments on Tennessee Cancellation

    On Arizona…

    “One, I think Tommy (Lloyd) has done a really good job. Certainly inherited some players and he’s added some to the mix himself. The way they’re playing, they’re playing really good basketball. Front line is terrific. The blocks they do around there. I’ve really enjoyed watching them. What I’ve watched of them, they play hard. They’re not going to beat themselves. They mix their defenses. They know what they’re looking for on the offensive end. They have about an eight-man rotation that they believe in. And those eight guys, the rotational players, have played well. The guys coming off the bench have played well the last couple games. So they’re at a team that are very confident, and they should be, because of what they’ve done up to this point, there’s no reason for them not to be.”

    On if they feel good about where they are with vaccination numbers, safeguarding against an outbreak…

    “Here’s what I would tell you. Of our players, 15 are all there (vaccinated). We have on walk-on not vaccinated. One scholarship player being redshirted not (vaccinated). With that said, we’re going to play. Because we know in the SEC, you either play or you forfeit. I can only tell you this. If we only would’ve had four guys that were not able to play in that situation, if we’ve got seven guys, we would get somebody out of the student body if we had to. I think it’s the right thing to do  for fans. I think it’s the right thing to do. And people say what about the game itself? I believe enough in the NCAA Tournament, the committee, where if you’re on that list, you’re there, they’re going to look back, they’re going to do their research. They’re going to know what went into that game. Just like I said the other day, I have great respect for what Rob Lanier did a couple weeks ago, taking his (Georgia State) team to play Rhode Island, a game he easily could’ve cancelled. But I think it showed just the kind of leadership that he had, leadership the school wanted from him — that he took his team up there with one starter and three rotational players and played a game. I would tell you, there is no doubt in my mind that Danny White would expect us to do the right thing. He would expect us to not only think about ourselves, but think about everybody involved and do the right thing. With that said, I can only speak from our point of view. Everybody else has to do what they feel they need to do.”

    On if there are similarities between Arizona and Gonzaga, with Arizona coached by former Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd…

    “Yeah, I think through the time Tommy being with Mark (Few). We scrimmaged every year, once they started allowing you to scrimmage other people. Every year (at Texas) our two scrimmages were Davidson and Gonzaga. We met different places. So getting to know Tommy, he certainly had a lot to do with the success at Gonzaga, as all assistants help you with what you’re doing. He was the coach-in-waiting there, but had this opportunity come along. Do they do some of the same things? They do, obviously. But he’s added his own touch to it, too. They’re doing a little more pressure stuff, I think defensively. Changing some things up on the defensive end more than maybe Gonzaga has done in the past. But there are some similarities to the way both teams play.”

    On if continuing the Memphis series is something he would consider in the future…

    “Right now, again, that’s over and done with, with me, in terms of where we are. We left there and we’re focused and getting ready to play. I said it when I was over there, there’s absolutely no way we’re going to put that game into our schedule this year. We don’t have time for it. We play Wednesday, we come back, we get ready for the SEC. And once we get in the SEC (schedule), we’re going to worry about that, along with the fact that we have to go to Texas. The fact is, we were there. We were ready to play. Our guys were ready to play. The game didn’t happen. So, for now, I have nothing else to say about it.”

    On his rotation with SEC play almost here…

    “I don’t know if we’ll ever get it down to seven or eight because I think we have too many guys who are too close. We believe we have a team that we trust our players, we trust their work ethic and I think they trust each other. Some nights some guys might have a little more than others, those guys will play. The next night, it might be somebody else. So we’ll continue to go into our bench. We don’t have a number, like we’re trying to get it down to. It’s going to be strictly based on reliability and guys doing what we need them to do when we’re out there.”

    On Kennedy Chandler making Santiago Vescovi better…

    “I think that Kennedy has helped Santi. I think Santi has helped Kennedy. I think Zakai has helped both of them and I think they both have helped Zakai. There is a silver lining there and a blessing in disguise with us being able to get Zakai here late, but early enough to get him going. If you watch Santi with Kennedy, I think it has been really neat. Santi is trying to help him catch up and understand what is going quicker. Kennedy being there has allowed Santi to get off the ball. Santi moves as well without the ball as anybody we have had here in a long time. He really does a great job there. I think all three of those guys have really helped each other and they set a tone for us and we have to continue to build on it.”

    On Santiago Vescovi’s two-point field goal numbers…

    “I think what he did this summer helped him. I also think he got himself in elite shape, which I have said it—I don’t think you can be an elite player if you don’t get yourself in elite shape. Santi has done that. If you watch him, he normally puts in more practice in distance than anybody else in practice when we check our numbers. He never wants to come out. We have to take him out or he is not going to come out. He loves to play. His versatility and what he does defensively, Santi will impact the game whether he makes a three or a two. He will find a way to impact it whether it is rebounding the ball or executing what we need to execute. He is one of those guys who is always going to do the right thing.”

    On what he liked about how his players handled Saturday…

    “It goes back to the respect our players and athletic department and university has for our fan base, our alumni base. We think there is none like it. I don’t think there’s any question, when we rolled into Nashville, you felt it. There was a sea of orange waiting for us. When we got on the court and got there, almost everybody in the building was wearing orange. I wish they would have been able to let the other people in that were waiting to come in, I think that would have been a good thing. Our players, the preparation has been terrific. They were excited about playing. When it doesn’t happen, sometimes the best thing to do is what we did. Just let them go out and enjoy the time that we were there. We scrimmaged just a little bit to get it going. I didn’t want them to get back because we weren’t obviously playing as hard or as intense even if we were practicing. That is why at the end we did a little bit more to make sure we could enough out of the work. We didn’t want to come back here because we knew the women would be here. We didn’t want to come back and go upstairs and practices. We wanted to come back and see the women play. I think it speaks volumes about our guys, the way that they afterwards wanted to spend some time with our fan base. We have got a great group of guys that enjoy and appreciate what our fans bring. Any time they can mingle with them, they want to do it.”

    On Victor Bailey Jr. and Justin Powell’s game…

    “It is consistency. We want them all to make shots, but we want them—like I was kind of talking about with Santi—understanding how they can impact the game in a way they can even if they are not making shots. We want them to shoot the ball when they are open. We want them to shoot the shots we practice. If they are not going in, that is not going to necessarily dictate them coming out of the game if they are doing all the other things that need to be done. With that said, if somebody is not making shots, it is going to give someone else a chance to come in because we have got to make some shots obviously. We have got a team that can shoot the ball well. Some nights, guys simply don’t have it. But what minutes they do have, we want them to have it in terms of executing and the reliability we need them to have in all the other facets of the game.”

    On how much he expects to know about his team after Arizona…

    “Even after Wednesday night, we are in December, we have a long way to go. I think we are going to be a different team in a month than we are right now. We have a terrific opponent coming in here. A team that is going to really test our defense. They are the nation’s best two-point field-goal defensive team. I am excited. I think we are going to have a terrific fan base here and a great atmosphere that we are looking forward to. I think we are going to find out—you find out something every night. I don’t think we are anywhere near where we need to be yet.”

    On how important it is to have a game like Arizona before SEC play…

    “I think any time you can play a national team. You go back, Arizona, from the time Lute Olson got on that campus, they have been one of the best basketball programs there has been in the country year in and year out. Certainly, Sean Miller did a terrific job there building it and keeping it where it was. We do want a national schedule. We like to have something on our schedule where we can play from the east coast to the west coast and somewhere in between. We were able to put this one together and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Tommy (Lloyd). He has worked hard. He is a grinder and he has been in the business a long time. We know how he does things. We are excited about the fact they are here and then we go out there next year.”

    On if the preparation schedule changed at all for Arizona…
    “The other day at the end when we were on the floor practicing, we did start trying to do some of their ball-screen coverage. They do a little bit differently with ball screens. Other than that, we didn’t do much. Today, we will get back on our regular schedule with it a little bit.”

    – Transcript via Tennessee Athletics Communications –

    Ric Butler is a Knoxville based sports media personality who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 2017. Most recently, he served as the lead writer for the website of a local radio station. Ric also helped create and host a daily radio show called “The Blitz." Ric’s passion for sports, smooth vocal, and infectious personality have made him popular with both his peers and Vol Nation. Originally from Dallas, Ric didn’t grow up riding horses to school. But he did dream of the big city lights. When not chasing down the latest Tennessee story, Ric can be found watching the WWE, often attempting their moves in an embarrassing fashion.