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Everything Rick Barnes Said Ahead Of Tennessee’s Top 10 Tilt With Texas

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes and the Vols are preparing for their second matchup against Texas in as many years after Barnes spent 17 seasons in Austin before coming to Knoxville.

College Gameday is in to for the top 10 tilt as No. 4 Tennessee (17-3, 7-1 SEC) and No. 10 Texas (17-3, 6-2 Big 12) look to continue their recent success.

Here’s everything Rick Barnes said ahead of the showdown with his former program.

More From RTI: Watch ESPN’s College Gameday Personalities Discuss Tennessee-Texas

On if he’s used to seeing Texas on the schedule at this point

“I think the fact is, I said going out there last year, with the announcement that they were coming into the SEC and certainly that’s great for our league and great for the University of Texas. That was seven years removed. I said it a year ago: I’ve got great, fond memories of the University of Texas and my time there. Just incredible people. It’s a great university. Great athletic department, great leadership. I’ve got a job to do. Rodney (Terry) will do his job, I can guarantee you that. It’s a game. We’ve got to play. The fact is, they’ll be in this league from here on out. So it’s time.”

“Like I said last year, going there was a little bit different. First time I had been back in the arena (the Frank Erwin Center). But looking back at that game, they really I thought played very hard. We had a hard time in a lot of different areas. Had a chance to maybe tie the game, win it in the end, but didn’t make the shot. We expect a hard game again (Saturday), because I know how those guys will have them ready to play.”

On what impresses him about Texas

“They’re not going to beat themselves. They’re defiantly not going to beat themselves. Defensively, they know exactly what they want to get done. Offensively, they’ve got guys that I think they’re going to look to take advantage of mismatches, do those type things. But well coached. Rodney Terry, obviously Chris Ogden who was here with me, and the rest of that staff, they worked through the (Chris Beard) situation there. And I think they’ve done a terrific job. Now I think you’re seeing a little more tweaking since Rodney has become the coach. Rodney is starting to add some things here and there that suits his personality, which you would expect. He’s experienced. He did a great job at Fresno State, did a great job at UTEP. The fact that he went back to Texas, both he and Chris Ogden left head-coaching positions, I think shows you respect for that University and what they feel about it. He’s really done a great job. What could’ve been a tough situation, and what was a tough situation, they’ve handled it and got the players through it, because I know what they did. They put the players first, the way they should have, and those guys have continued to play really hard.”

On Texas’ talented backcourt

“Certainly their guards are explosive, can get going. Quick, can get downhill, score at different levels on you. They’re playing.They’re going to be aggressive. They can and will put stress on your defense.”

On how Santiago Vescovi has improved defensively the last four years

“One, he’s in elite cardio shape. He can play forever. The fact that one the other end, people take him out and he’s having to move the whole time and do things there. Where he’s gotten so much better defensively, it just shows you, Coach (Bob) Knight used to always talk about the mental to the physical is four to one, that’s what Santiago is on defense. The mental side of his game is there. He really understands how to play basketball. He knows what he has to do to be effective defensively, how he needs to guard guys. He’s got elite hands. And he’s a high-level competitor. But he really thinks the game on both ends. His mental approach is really terrific.”

On how rare it is for a player to change his game that much, to go hard on every possession on both ends of the floor

“It’s hard. If it were easy more guys would do. But to have a standard that you set for yourself and being willing to live to that standard, day in and day out and the grind, embracing the grind, which you have to do every day, from his point of view, is pretty exceptional. Because not everyone can do that. Human nature tells us that some days just slide by, just get by. But to do what he does every day, you’ve got to hold yourself to a high standard of focus and he does that.”

On what it says about Rodney Terry to step into the situation that he did at Texas and keep things going in the right direction

“I think it speaks volumes because one, he was with us for nine years (at Texas) and I knew him way back when he was young and certainly appreciate the way he came up through the basketball ranks through high school and into college. While he was with us, he did a great job on staff with whatever role that he needed to play, he played. Then he went to Fresno and did a terrific job there. Actually had Mike Schwartz with him. Then he went to UTEP and was doing a great job there, but I think some of the realignment had something to do with the fact that going back to Texas was the right thing at the right time. But I’m not surprised by the job that he has done. I’m really not because he’s a basketball guy and has always been one of those guys that will ask questions and talk about things. What they did to keep the players engaged the way they did and I think after they won that first game, you saw the respect that the players have for him with the way they treated him after the game. So I’m not surprised. He’s been around it and been around high level basketball for a long time and he knows what it takes.”

On his message to Terry earlier in the season

“Well, the big thing was he was in an uncharted situation that very few coaches have been in. The first thing I said, ‘hey, you know what you’re doing. Be yourself, but until the situation is resolved, you’re going to have to go about it in a little bit different way. Just make sure you’re thinking most of all about the players because the staff is going to be fine.’ And once the situation is resolved, now it’s going to shift into another level that you’re going to have to go to and that’s where you’re really going to have to be comfortable with the team and what you want to do. That’s where you have to be willing to make the changes you need to make. He’s done that in his out subtle way. He’s slowing doing some things I know he’s comfortable with.”

On if Julian Phillips is in a place where he can flush a bad shooting performance

“I think he’ll flush it. I do think he was over-pressing the other night. I do think that. But Julian is going to work and he’s going to come back and get it out of his system. But I just thought he was really pressing the other night.”

On the loss to Texas last year and what they learned from it

“Well the biggest turning point from that game a year ago was Kennedy Chandler. That was the game I thought, you go back, we didn’t play him the last five or six minutes of the game. We made a good surge to get back and give ourselves a chance to win the game. That was the game that I thought turned him around more than anybody and it was a game where really, if you look at it and go back and watch it, I thought they pretty much dominated it. But we fought back. We did. We’re going to have to have that mentality tomorrow.”

On if Tobe Awaka is forcing him to find more minutes

“I think if he continues to do the things we’re asking him to do, yeah. He does give us a real physicality in a way that we don’t have and he’s getting better offensively. He’s not even getting started what he can be. But we do have confidence in him. We know he’s going to go in and compete.”

On why the defense has been so much more dominant this season after being good defensively last season

“One, older guys coming back. And then the fact that we’ve got three, four guys that can really guard the ball and guys that really understand how to fix some things. We talk about fix-it guys. We’ve got some of those guys obviously — more of those guys than a year ago. It’s the fact that we’re older and knew we had to get better. We were solid. I think we’ve always been solid defensively, but some years you can be better than others when guys are really willing to buy in and know we can be really good here. We’ve still got to rebound it better, but overall, I think all of the credit goes to the player’s mindset that they know they want to be better than a year ago.”

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