Tennessee basketball used a dominant defensive performance to coast past SEC foe Georgia, 70-41, Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols were extremely balanced offensively with Zakai Zeigler leading the way with 11 points and seven Vols scored six or more points.
Eighth year head coach Rick Barnes discussed his defense’s elite performance, Tennessee’s balanced scoring evening and much more.
Here’s everything Barnes said following the blowout win.
On the balanced scoring
“I wasn’t real happy with how we started the game. I think our first six possessions we shot quick threes. But once we settled in, we’ve got an unselfish team. We had talked about, coming into the game, defensively what we needed to do to get better. We still think we’ve got a ways to go there. One-on-one defense, knowing we’re going to play against Georgia’s guards who are tough to guard. Especially late in the shot clock, when they’re just going to go at you. They’ve got some wiggle to them where they can set you up, drive. Didn’t want to foul. Thought that was important. Early in the game, some of the shots led to easy baskets. Offensively we weren’t moving the ball, sharing the ball. That’s where we play our best basketball.”
On what went well defensively over the final 30 minutes
“As you guys know, we like pressuring the ball. There are games where you’re going to have to back up a little bit, contain, give some cushion. Contain and contest. Early I thought we were too close. Certainly we were aware that we didn’t want them to come in and over help and give up wide-open threes. They proved they could do that too. We felt like the biggest thing we had to do was not foul them. We just didn’t want to give them a chance to get the free-throw line that way. But overall, in the two areas we had spent time on the last two days, two and a half days, has been our one-on-one defense, our ball-screen defense. The rest of the way, we’re going to have to be good in those areas because if we guard the way we’re capable of, and get people in the situation where the clock is coming down, it’s going to be some type of ball screen or some kind of a weave game into a drive game. So we’ve got to get better.”
On being a team that can frequently go on 10-0 runs
“You know, really, when we’re moving the ball. When we’re looking to make the pass, opposed to catching the ball and (being) predetermined. I think Julian (Phillips) is dealing with that right now, where he wants to be so good every time that he’s made up his mind, not being quite as patient as he needs to be, in terms of seeing the whole court. But when we move the ball, we get our spacing, we’re going to end up with some good shots. Then you couple that with the fact that we can get some deflections, which in the first half tonight we had 19 deflections, you hope some of those lead to easy baskets in transition. It’s a combination of a couple different things that get you going on those runs. Plus if you can get some stops in there, that’s what really can break it loose for you.”
On Santiago Vescovi on the defensive end
“Santi, he does it night in and night out. He was not feeling well at LSU, really. Josiah told me he told him before the game you’re going to have to help me, I’m not going to be able to do anything but lock in on the defensive end. When you get a guy that has that mindset going in, and I think he does that. I think he goes into the game knowing that. I ask him this question the other day. I think one of the hardest things for a player is going in thinking I’ve got to make shots. And the answer to that is, if you can think about the game plan, get lost on the defensive end, and just know that when I’m open, if I get open, I make it. I think that’s his mindset. I don’t think he goes into a game thinking at all that I’ve got to force shots. I think he goes into a game thinking on what he has to do to help his team win and he starts on the defensive end. And he’s done a great job all year. He is truly the guy that, you think about it, four years ago everybody went after him. Now he’s a guy that does so much on the defensive end for us.”
On how the defensive can get even better
“Sometimes, numbers, like when you guys normally probably vote for defensive player of the year, you probably look at guys that block shots and by the numbers. I don’t necessarily think that means you are a great defensive player. To me, Jonas Aidoo should be blocking three or four shots a game. Great defensive guys, Santiago is one of them. Zakai is one of them. Josiah does a good job. Tyreke (Key) did a terrific job tonight. Jahmai Mashack, when he is locked in, does it. They impact the game because not only do they do what they need to do guarding their man, but they are fix-it guys. They are there when something breaks down, they can fix it. You ask how we can get better? Consistency. Can we be consistent every night with each guy knowing what he has to do to get better? I am really proud of our post guys. We had a major breakdown one of the first plays of the game on the dunk. We can’t keep two guys on the ball. We did it. As the game went on, I thought what we talked about the last couple games, we were better.”
On the balance of playing time throughout the rotation
“A little bit of both. We are really proud of Tobe getting out there. He needed minutes. You guys have watched him. He is growing up right in front of us. His minutes. Uros (Plavsic) had been sick. He is coming off not doing a lot of practicing. I thought he was a really factor early in the game. When we went back to our traditional big lineup, that is when we really got control of the game because we finally started putting the ball inside and putting some pressure on them. We made a couple of nice inside-out passes. The fact is and you guys have seen it, everybody at some point in time — you go back to Jahmai Mashack making that shot against Maryland in the corner, huge play in that game. I don’t think they make those plays if they don’t get some minutes. I want them all when they go out there to be comfortable. They will always tell you if they don’t earn it in practice. I leave practice every day and go home and watch that practice tape and get thoughts in mind. I say you better make sure those thoughts are good thoughts. As you start formulating a game plan, our coaches do a great job with that. Again, these work hard. If they work hard, we are going to (play them). We trust them all. We do. We will give them all the chance to play if they earn it and hope that when their number is called, they are productive.”
On the interior play
“Every game. We want to play inside-out. Every game. That is why I was not really happy the way we started. Again, if I were playing Tennessee, I would say hey let’s let them start jacking threes. It could have been a little carryover because we shot the ball well the other night at LSU but every game takes on its personality. That goes back, I use the word consistently on how we want to work the game. Again, inside-out is not necessarily throwing it to a post guy. It could be driving it, playing off two feet and make them work. Not just standing back behind the line shooting it, they are not working. It doesn’t give you great rebound position and the chance to go get offensive rebounds. I thought they were really good early keeping us in the game, off the glass. We didn’t move them at all and they got some runout because of shots I don’t think we really expected would go up.”
On what he liked about Tobe Awaka’s performance
“He is getting more patient with the ball. He still has got to play quicker. Tobe has really good hands. He is strong, as you guys know. He is a big 17-year-old kid right now that is growing up in front of us, is what he is. He takes it really serious. You watch it after practice. Everything he does, he does it with a purpose. He wants to be good. He is confident. He thinks that every rebound goes up, he should have it. He is willing to go try and go get it. It is going to be fun. It is fun coaching a guy like that. A lot like what we talk about with Z’s DNA, just a competitive player. It is in his, too. They come out of a great AAU program. Played for good high school coaches. Those guys, they are going to compete.”
On Julian Phillips making an impact despite not playing well
“We want him to stay aggressive but he has got to see the court, too. As games go on, we are getting scouted, too. People will say hey if he gets the ball, he is coming at you. He is going to get in gaps, shrink the court on him. He is going to have to continue to do that. We want him to be aggressive. I would rather him err on that side of it than not be aggressive at all.”