Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes met with the local media Friday following the Vols’ disappointing loss at Florida and ahead of its showdown with No. 25 Auburn Saturday.
Barnes discussed the Vols’ defensive breakdowns in the final 10 minutes against Florida, how to get more consistency from Julian Phillips and Tyreke Key and much more.
Here’s everything Rick Barnes said ahead of Tennessee’s top 25 showdown with Auburn.
More From RTI: Tennessee Has More Offensive Consistency. Does It Have Enough?
On bouncing back from the Florida game
“Well, I hope so. We look at what we do after every game. I don’t think anybody is happy with the way we played at Florida. This league is good. It is hard to win. It is hard to win in any league. The fact is we didn’t play our best basketball. We got beat and we are going to have to play the next game, (which) always looms big. Whether you win or lose, the next one is a big one. You guys know that. We are going to have to play better. We are going to have to take care of some of the mental breakdowns we had in the game to be able to win any more games the rest of the year. You look at the rest of our schedule, it is only going to get tougher and tougher starting with Auburn on Saturday afternoon. Bruce (Pearl) has done what he has always does, a terrific job with this team. He is going to get the most out of them every year. As hard as the play. Knows what they are going to look for and the different matchups he is going to try and seek out. We are going to have to be on edge and know that we have to play better.”
On if Tennessee had more mental breakdowns against Florida
“There was more defensively. We have won games — we had some really good shots that didn’t go in, but that is part of the game. We can’t let that affect what we do on the defensive end. When we got the lead in the game, we didn’t do what we needed to do on the defensive end. That is what let the game get away from us. There were some defensive breakdowns that we can’t have.”
On if he is ever surprised by great games followed by poor games
“I don’t think I am surprised. I don’t. I think it is really hard to be a great basketball team because young people today have a lot of distractions that can come their way. If you are not on top of it as much as we try to be, but still there is a lot of things going on out there. For some guys, being where we are, they have worked hard to get us here. But it is hard to not only get here, but is hard to stay here and it is really hard to stay here night in and night out. To do that, you have to have a state of mind to where you can stay focused one day at a time and never ever ever take somebody for granted and think it is going to be easy. I don’t care who you play. It is not easy. We have got to do a better job. I can tell you am I surprised? I am not. I have had teams that have gone through and had some that have handled it a little bit better. I don’t think I’ve ever had one that handled all perfectly.”
On what the team meetings were like on Thursday
“We talked about what we do, mainly defensively. That is what, again, we can talk about our shots. We had opportunities there to shoot the ball. But we can’t let the fact that we missed open shots at time affect us on the defensive end. That is really the crux of what it got down to. We fought back into the game after we got off to a poor start with some defensive breakdowns. We fought back in. Once we got the lead, give them credit. They fought back. For whatever reason, we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be on the defensive end.”
On how he felt like they defended Colin Castleton and how that prepares them for Auburn’s Johni Broome
“I don’t think we defended him as well as we needed to. He’s a really good basketball player and we knew going in that not only is he a guy that they look to score but they look for him to facilitate a lot and he’s a terrific player. We weren’t disciplined enough. Every time we reached he made us pay and we should be, by now, too experienced to reach on a guy like that because good players, good teams, if you try to go for gambles and steals and you don’t come up with them they’re going to make you pay and I thought he did that.”
On the importance of knowing what you’re getting from Julian Phillips and Tyreke Key night in and night out
“I think it’s important with every guy. You know, some nights you miss shots. You can live with that but I think the key with not just those two guys but everybody, the fact that they will take shots when they’re there and on the other end we’ve got to know night-in and night-out from every guy that we’re going to get their best effort and obviously they’re focused on the defensive end and just on offense we execute, like the other night we got as high of quality of shots. We didn’t make the shots, but we’ve won games that we didn’t make shots. We won a game against the University of Maryland where we shot 29% and had games where we haven’t shot well but we’ve won them because we’ve defended for the most part. We didn’t do that the other night.”
On what needs to happen for Julian Phillips to be more consistent offensively
“I think it’s a mindset on his part too. Understanding but it’s not that we want to put the whole load on him. We talked to him about being aggressive and understanding how we need him to play and the other night it showed up, I think he only had four shots but he got to the free throw line and we need him to continue to do that but I would, whether it’s him or Olivier, anybody on our team. You look at everybody’s gameplan, it has been all year, will continue to be until we make them do otherwise, is they’re going to work hard at taking away our perimeter game and have us put the ball inside with our post guys and our post guys are going to have to give us something and it may not necessarily be a shot. It might just be playing inside out but people are certainly concerned about the perimeter guys so we need, whether it’s Julian or Tyreke or whoever, Josiah, we need those guys — Uros, Jonas, Tobe — we need those guys to help us.”
On if making twos is more important than making threes
“I think it’s all important. You want good quality shots. You don’t get many great shots in college basketball when you play against high quality teams. They’re going to guard, they’re going to take things away and like we try to work hard at running people off the three-point line. Other teams will do the same thing to us so if you can get some rim shots. Some midrange shots— we believe in the midrange game. Some people don’t. We do but we had some of those shots the other night that we didn’t make but those are shots we practice and believe in, but they’re all important.”
On how difficult it is for freshmen to balance being aggressive, but not feeling like they need to start carrying the load
“I think it’s a balance, but we’re not asking (Julian Phillips) to carry the load. We’re not. We’re asking — we’ve got a group of guys that we think that certainly we can spread it around. But it goes back to consistency. That’s what it goes back to. It’s not so much about Julian or one carrying the load. We just need consistency and balance from guys each and every game that we know what we’re going to get.”
On the balance of trying to get people to matchup with him with their lineups as opposed to matching what they’re doing
“That’s what I think is great about this team. Is that we can do that. We did it the other night. We saw that we had started out the way we’ve been playing when we went to the bigger lineup and it goes back to defensively, we’re not going to get away from who we are on the defensive end. That’s what we’ve built this team on and it goes back to can we guard the way we need to guard. We did a decent job, but when we got the lead, we didn’t do a very good job. That was the difference in the game. We work hard with our post guys trying to guard a lot of different people, but the other night, we were just too undisciplined in the post and (Colin) Castleton took advantage of it.”
“What Bruce does with his team every year is that he’s going to take the pieces that he’s got and put the puzzles together and I think he’s done it again this year. They’re certainly a different team, but every year he’s going to take what he’s got and get guys playing at a high level. They’re going to play hard, they’re going to execute what they want him to do. They are a team that get going, they’re explosive, they get down and they’re going to keep grinding away with it. But he does a great job year in and year out with whatever pieces he has. He’s going to put them together.”
On only having seven assists the other night
“You miss open shots, you don’t get assists. Gotta make shots. Those midrange shots were all passes that we didn’t make.”
On the toughness of the SEC
“Every game you play and it’s not just us. It’s everybody. Everybody has an opportunity every night to do something to get themselves in position. February is a month where everybody is fighting to secure something in the postseason. It’s not just us. Everybody has something to play for. You’ve got to be ready to play every single night. I don’t think there’s a team in the country that if they’re not ready to play, they can’t get beat this year. That’s the one thing we’ve seen in college basketball up until right now. You’ve got to be on top of it and if you’re not, you’re going to lose.”
On if he prefers college basketball going to a 24-second shot clock
“No, I think the 30-second clock is a great clock for college basketball. I think the 24 is a little bit too difficult for college players to play with. People don’t realize how hard it is to play with a 24-second clock. The fact that we’ve got 30, it’s right for our game.”