Tennessee basketball’s four game winning streak came to a close Wednesday night in Gainesville as the Vols fell to Florida, 67-54.
The Vols’ offense struggled mightily for much of the game while their defense let up late as Florida star Colin Castleton took control of the game.
Barnes discussed Zakai Zeigler’s struggles, the defensive breakdowns late in the game and much more. Here’s everything Rick Barnes said following the win.
More From RTI: Three Quick Takeaways As Tennessee Falls At Florida
On why Tennessee couldn’t stop Florida’s extended runs
“I thought, one, give Florida credit. They came out and we did not get off to a good start. Turning the ball over and just they hit a couple threes early. You’ve got to give them credit for it because I thought most of them were contested. We just kept fighting uphill all night long. Then I thought we really lost our poise. We let the fact that we weren’t making shots (affect us), and we had some good looks at it that we didn’t knock down. But their game plan was no different than anybody else we play. They’re going to work hard at trying to take away the perimeter, force us into the midrange with certain players and see if they can make those shots. We just, again, we’ve got to get better offensively. And what this game, as much as any game we’ve played, we’ve got to be connected on that end of the floor. The disappointing thing — we had some shots at it, it wasn’t that; I mean, I can look at what we shot and this and that — I just feel like we didn’t execute at all the way we wanted to on the offensive end. And then defensively, had a couple huge breakdowns at the exact wrong time that you can do that. Going under on a shooter and he hits a three, then pick-and-roll right around the rim late in the shot clock. Those plays, you can’t give up. But give Florida credit. They played good basketball and we gave them a chance to start believing in what they were doing and they executed.”
On how they can get better offensively, avoiding games scoring in the 50s
“Consistency. We need some guys to be aggressive and do what we’ve asked them to do, in terms of taking the ball to the basket. The right guys. Some guys, they’re game-planning hard for Santi (Vescovi) and Zakai (Zeigler). They’re game-planning hard for those guys. We know that. But the other guys, our post guys inside, we need to get a consistent scorer down there. I’m not sure what ‘O’ (Olivier Nkamhoua) had tonight. He had 11 points. What did he shoot? Four-for-13. We need somebody else. We need Julian (Phillips), we need Tyreke Key. The guys that we played tonight, we need all those guys. Jonas (Aidoo) went in and had a couple good plays. But we can’t get into where we’re going offense, defense like that. We just need to get consistent play from our post guys. Uros (Plavsic) went in and did some good things, then over-anxious, took himself out of position too many times, let (Colin) Castleton get shots at the rim.”
On why they lost their poise, the frustration of that happening with a veteran team
“It is. Our guys are disappointed. But we’re better than this. Tonight we weren’t. I know these guys want to win, they want to do the right thing. When you get in the game, and you feel like you’re getting great looks at the basket, and it’s not going in with guys you want to shoot it, that’s the one thing I told our guys, we can’t stop shooting it. They were content to say OK, they’re not making shots, we’re going to let them keep shooting them. Again, we had a couple good shots within 10 feet of the basket that didn’t go in. What we didn’t do, again, was rebound it on the offensive end the way we needed to, as much has we needed to. Still, defensively, I just thought we at the wrong time gave up some baskets that we can’t give up.”
On how many changes he can make in a game when the offense isn’t scoring
“A bunch. But like we ran a play to change it, threw the ball out of bounds. It goes back to execution, guys fighting for their space on the floor. We tried a lot of different things. Throwing the ball on the baseline, throwing it out of bounds. I mean, we shouldn’t do that. It’s where I think guys get locked into one thing and you know there have to be a couple different looks they’ve got to get. It goes back. We’ve got a lot of things. You don’t need a lot if you execute. We made the run back, the comeback, think about it, we made some shots. That’s what it was. ‘Z’ came off, made a couple shots, moved the ball better. But you’ve got to make shots, you do. And if you don’t make shots, you absolutely can’t give up offensive rebounds and you certainly can’t give up some of the breakdowns that we had on the defensive end.”
On is he believes his team was locked in and ready to play
“I do. I thought our preparation was good. Winning is hard. They are a good basketball. We came in and I think it is important each guy understands how important he is to our team. It is February now. We need to have guys. I don’t think they are going to play perfect every night. We are too good a team to turn the ball over and force things the way we did early in the game, where we just weren’t connected the way we need to stay connected and execute. Running offense is hard. You are going to have learn. I talk about running, you have to play it. We just have to do a better job there. We have shown we can be a good team. But we have had these games, too, which a lot of teams had. We had some open looks. I will tell you we had some open looks that we are going to have to make to be the team that we want to be.”
On Colin Castleton’s success
“He is a good player. Early, I thought we did some good things there. They started spacing out, trying to isolate him one on one. We wanted to play position on him and get some bigs from the outside and be ready to rotate the shooters off the scouting report, but our post defense wasn’t good. We gave him angles. His up-and-under moves, you can’t let him get to the rim. We let him get too close to the rim.”
On how he’d assess Zakai Zeigler’s performance
“I thought he struggled early. He settled in. They were making him make plays with it. They were trying to take Santi out. He turned down some shots. I don’t care if he ends up shooting 30 shots a night. If the shot is there, he has to take it. I thought he was going in and let Castleton block it. Castleton just stands back there. He is a one-man zone at the rim. Z is our guy. We are going to stay with him. He will learn from it like he always does.”
On what Tennessee needs to do to more affectively defend big men
“Discipline. We worked on it for two days, staying down and trying to play position and making sure that you want to protect the rim. You just can’t give up angles in there. We did. You guys have been at practice. You hear us talk about it all the time. Gotta stay down. Gotta be disciplined. We weren’t disciplined enough.”
On if he can sense a ‘here we go again’ vibe from players in poor offensive games
“I think you get a vibe that maybe confidence (drops), especially when they have wide-open shots. And we had some wide-open shots. There is no question about it. We took some that weren’t good shots. I think that is from pressing. I do really believe that. The fact is, you have to continue to take your shots. You have to. There are nights when it is not going in and it is not going in. We believe enough in our offensive rebounding that we think we can go get some. It goes back really executing as hard as we have to execute. Teams, you have to give the other team credit now. They were chasing Santi. They were game-planning for Zakai. Just like we tried to game plan for Castleton. Guys, they are doing the same thing. That is where players this time of year, we have to make adjustments. They have to make adjustments, too, knowing that here is how the game is played. What do I have to do to get going? We will figure it out. We have to.”