Everything Rick Barnes Said After Auburn Victory

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    NCAAM 2/26 Recap: #17 Tennessee, Rick Barnes Brings Down #3 Auburn 67-62

    The Tennessee basketball team, led by head coach Rick Barnes, continued their undefeated home streak on Saturday. The 17th-ranked Vols took down the 3rd-ranked Auburn Tigers in one of the biggest games of the SEC season.

    After the conclusion of the game, Barnes met with the media to give his reaction to the victory and discuss several topics relating to the game.

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    Barnes spoke a fair amount on the play of freshman Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and his showing against Auburn’s Walker Kessler. Huntley-Hatfield was terrific on Saturday, giving Tennessee a tough, gritty presence in the paint against the nation’s best shot-blocking team.

    Going back the last few weeks, Tennessee has two key performances that can give the Vols hope for the tournament. When the Vols hosted Kentucky, freshman Jonas Aidoo wasn’t only able to contain, but compete with Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, a player of the year candidate. Then you add that with Huntley-Hatfield’s showing against Kessler and you have two good reasons to be confident in Tennessee’s freshmen down low. Add that with Uros Plavsic and John Fulkerson and you now have a healthy mix of athleticism, strength, rebounding, blocking, and offensive awareness.

    Below is the full transcript for Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes after Saturday’s victory against Auburn. The video of Barnes’ press conference can be found here.

    Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes – Auburn – Feb. 26, 2022

    On making a comeback during the last 15 minutes…

    “I thought we got more aggressive defensively. I thought Zakai (Zeigler) coming in and his ball pressure was a big part of that happening. I do think it took our guys a little bit of time to get used to their length out there, when to go and how quickly they are about to play to the rim. We had three turnovers and they ended up with 15. In the first half when we did have a little bit of a lead and we had two blunders that you can’t have, turnovers and going out of bounds. It really flipped the game a little bit. The more aggressive we got defensively, the better we became on the offensive end. Santi (Vescovi) was having a tough time getting going and that is a credit to their defense and what they did. Overall, Auburn is a terrific team and you aren’t going to get a lot of easy baskets. You know that they have a special player that when they get into a situation, they are going to try to get the ball in his hands and he had a terrific game today.

    On Brandon Huntley-Hatfield’s performance…

    “You never know when the light comes on for someone. You hope it can happen like that and it very seldom does. Brandon in the last couple of weeks has been so locked into our scouting reports. He came in early on his own and continued to know exactly what he had to do today. Most freshmen when they come in, their idea of success is scoring. I do think that Brandon is starting to find out that he is quicker off the floor than he thinks. He has a really good feel for the game and the ball. The way he got his hands on the basketball, I thought he was key. I will tell you what we did find. We found a guy that could inbound the ball for us at the end of the game. He was terrific. He came in and made the plays which were really key. His demeanor was really good. The more you put into it, the more you will get out of it. In his case, it has been more mental than physical. He really wants to learn the game at a high level.

    On the team’s rebounding efforts…

    “We talk about it every game. We have to do that. You have to do it. Plain and simple. We will have great block-outs and all that but sometimes it’s a matter of wanting to get the basketball. Tonight, we had a lot of guys with that effort, trying to get their hands on it and make things happen. I hope we can continue to build on it.”

    On banged-up players on the team…

    “First of all, there was never any doubt they were going to play. That’s not what you ever worry about with our guys. At this time of the year, I think a lot of teams are really banged up and I think a lot of guys have played a lot of minutes, but what you are concerned about is their time. Even though you know that they’re competitive, they’re going to be ready. They’re going to be locked in with the scouting report. It’s just the time. Knowing that because their bodies have gotten so used to a schedule, they know what they’re going to do. Tomorrow will be a day where we come in and scrub it out. The guys that played minutes won’t do very much and the next day off will be Wednesday. Their bodies get used to that and now all at once, they’re basically not doing much for two or three days in a row. You just worry about their bodies getting out of sync. I know Zakai came in early today and went through just a little bit quicker, hard 20-minute workout to try to get his timing back. I did think at the start of the game, he started like I thought he would. He was a little bit out of sync, but once he got going defensively I thought it changed a lot of things for our team.”

    The environment in the arena…

    “Honestly, I get so locked in, I’m almost oblivious to it. I really am. When I start to hear it, I know it’s loud. When I first got here I met Kevin Feltner, who’s from here in East Tennessee. He told me, ‘I promise you you’re going to find out that Tennessee has the best basketball fans in the country.’ He said that to me. I’ll get a text from him tonight as I did after every big game. He said, ‘I told you so.’ I do believe we’ve got one of the best home court advantages. I do. I think our fans are great. I just told them, ‘It’s great to be a Tennessee Volunteer.’ They’ve made a difference. Our student section has been outstanding. I told our guys, and it’s the first time I’ve said honestly since I have been here, if you guys will get it going on defense, we’ll get this crowd in the game. I’ve never alluded to a crowd. I don’t know if I have ever done it in my career to be honest with you. I don’t know why I did today, but I did say that during a time out. I said, ‘If you guys will come out of here and get it turned up on the defensive end and make some things happen, this place will come to life and it did.”

    On Auburn relying on Jabari Smith…

    “Well, Bruce (Pearl) is a very smart coach, and a terrific basketball coach. When you have a guy with that talent… I mean, we had a team [at Texas] on which six out of our top seven scorers were freshmen, and (Kevin Durant) played 36 minutes for a reason, and he averaged 26 points a game. It’s hard not to give [players like that] the ball because it’s not like they’re selfish players—you know they’ll make the right read. If they get double teamed, they’ll pass the ball. The fact is, we were switching a few times down there. People forget, Kennedy Chandler has a 6-7 wingspan, and Zakai is going to fight, Santiago is going to fight. Even us sometimes, when we feel like we need baskets, it’s based on who we think we can play through (in that moment). Like at the end, if (Auburn) would have stayed straight-up, we would have probably put Zakai up top with the ball a little bit more. But he went up there and tried to dribble through two people. I keep telling him and Kennedy they don’t have to make a play; they need to make the right play. But it’s hard not to give the ball to a guy when you’ve got a very, very talented player and say, ‘Hey, we have to play through him.’”

    On true freshman Brandon Huntley-Hatfield…

    “I think where he’s grown is in his work, and he’s come so far in so many different areas. But, he has been really locked in—I’m talking about the scouting report, he’s in the huddle talking, he knows what’s coming… You can ask him [about his development]. I can just tell you he’s earned it. It has nothing to do with us. I think you guys know if you’re going to be out there, you’re going to have to earn your way out there. And talk about holding that rope—well, he’s done that. At times, it’s been slippery for him, but he’s never caved-in to it. And you know what, he and Jonas both are helping us at the right time. Again, we need them all. We’ve said that from the beginning. I love his demeanor, but more importantly, I just love the focus he’s had getting ready, mentally, for the game. He hit a three, and he had a chance to shoot another one, but he didn’t. I think that’s all maturity. I think he’s starting to get a great feel for what we have to do and how we all have to be together as a team. He’s got so many great days ahead of him, and he’s going to continue to keep working and get himself in elite shape and he’ll become the player I think everybody knows he can be.”

    On defending Walker Kessler…

    “Well, I don’t know if we limited him. We were trying to play our defensive principles and we adjusted a little bit on the ball screen at the end of the game. Wanted a little more to a drop catch than have our guards fight over it so we could take away the role where we didn’t have to tag quite as much on the backside for those skip passes. Again, credit goes to the guys. They have great respect for what Auburn does and how they play, the year they’ve had. We know we have to do that every night we go out. They knew it would be hard. I told them before the game, how are we going to be when it’s not going our way. We turn it over twice, I think we had a four- or five-point lead, gave them some momentum.

    Finished out the half okay, but when it wasn’t going great, we finally got things turned around. I thought Zakai’s ball pressure was huge and obviously we started making some shots. Making shots is a big part of this game as you all know. We had some early that we could’ve, should’ve, maybe but that’s part of the game but when we needed some, we made some shots.”

    On watching players celebrating postgame…

    “I don’t, I walk off the court. I mean I get there first thing, last thing I’ve said to them when I got through with them, ‘Hey we have to enjoy this real quick and we got to go to Georgia Tuesday night’. I think they’re appreciative for our fanbase, and our students. They’re students, they’re college kids, I get it. Winning is so hard and I probably am not one of the best at enjoying winning because my mind quickly gets onto what’s next. For them, I want them to enjoy winning because it’s hard to come by. When you do win, I don’t want them to do anything stupid, I don’t want them to ever disrespect any opponent. I want them to show humility, I want them to be classy, but I do want them to enjoy it. I just don’t want them to ever do something that their moms, dads and family wouldn’t be proud of. Obviously our university but it’s part of being where we are today. They should enjoy it, they just won a game against an outstanding basketball team.”

    On overrated chants…

    “I never understood that. You just had a great, quality win over a team that first of all is not overrated. Your fans are acting like you beat nobodies. We did, we just beat a top-five team. One, they aren’t overrated. Two, it diminishes that you just won a great game against an outstanding basketball team. I’ve never understood that, I never have. Wherever I’ve been when they start doing that, I’m like stop. Give us credit, don’t diminish what we just did, we just beat an outstanding basketball team. I’ve thought that my entire career. I never enjoy it when fans do that because again, our guys work too hard and won a game against an outstanding team today.”

    On Kennedy Chandler’s shot at the end…

    “I knew we were about to score again, I knew that. I knew we were going to have to do that, I would’ve felt a lot better if we make our free throws and then get the ball inbounds. He can run the baseline, we keep telling him that, he made that tough pass to Santi but he could’ve ran it over there. Believe it or not, we spent a lot of time this week and we have the last two weeks working on special situations and we got to do a better job. Certainly, they are athletic and are big and can put a quick trap on it. We are going to have to continue to get better in that area.”

    – Transcript courtesy of 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.