Tennessee coach Rick Barnes met with the media Tuesday afternoon before his team leaves for Nashville and the SEC Tournament.
The Vols are the five-seed in the conference tournament and will face the winner of Ole Miss-South Carolina on Thursday. If Tennessee gets past its first opponent, it’ll play Missouri on Friday.
Barnes discussed the SEC Tournament, Tennessee’s issues in its loss at Auburn and much more Tuesday.
Here’s everything Barnes had to say.
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On his assessment of point guard play at Auburn
“It wasn’t point guard play, it was our defense. We were not good. That was really the most disappointing thing. From our perspective, 16 points that were just so uncharacteristic— not to take anything away from Auburn, but we were just not where we needed to be defensively and obviously it showed up on the court, especially in the second half. Overall, I thought we put a lot on Santi. For him to play 39 minutes and normally guarding the other team’s best player, best perimeter player and trying to get it going, we need to help him. There’s no doubt he needs to get some help there but offensively the guys disposition was good. We need more consistency out of our front line, obviously but overall the major disappointment was our defense.”
On if the defensive lapses were lack of communication
“A couple. A couple were but some of them were just, I don’t know how to say it, just plays you’re like, ‘what are you thinking.’ The answer was, we weren’t. Those are the ones that are tough, when you give up rim shots and different things that happen. It’s the smallest to smallest details but this time of the year, those are the things than end up getting you beat.”
On if that is part of adjusting without Zakai defensively
“Probably a little bit here or there. Maybe his presence too. I do think, obviously, we played in here without him and played good basketball. Went there, you take 182 assists out of the game — for the year — and his presence. He’s been a big part of our team this year. I would imagine, and you could ask the guys, according to the game wondering themselves without having him. He’s been a mainstay for us this year. I’m sure it was in the back of their mind. Wondering coming down to the end of the game, how are we going to do this, how are we going to do that and that’s why I think it’s good we get back to playing as quick as we can and I just know I have a lot of confidence in these guys. We went in and went through the entire season yesterday in our film session. Talked about what we’ve learned from each game and how it’s time to put all of that to work.”
On what he says to the front line due to their inconsistencies
“What do we say? That we need them. That we need them. They’re the ones that can help our guards. We can’t continue to put all the pressure on our guards and really proud of Tobe’s effort. What he did rebounding wise, and to be honest if we could just get those guys consistently to do that and I do think — well I don’t think, I know — our perimeter guys know we need those guys and to get them the ball but they’ve got to do their job getting the ball where they’re able to be effective with it as opposed to just catching the ball where the defense wants them to catch it. That’s the hardest part of the game, understanding doing your work early, knowing where you need to get the ball and knowing everybody isn’t going to let you get it where you want it. That team wants to win too. We just need more consistency.”
On if the inconsistency of a player like Olivier Nkamhoua, as a senior, can be maddening
“It’s tough. I know he cares. I mean, he cares deeply. But it goes back, I just think guys, and I’ve always said this, I don’t think you’ll struggle on offense if you get totally locked in on defense and rebounding and understanding exactly what our team needs from you. Because these guys are good enough players, skilled enough players, that they’re going to score points just based on the way our offense is set up. When they start thinking about that part of it — I’m not just talking about Olivier, I’m talking about any guy — when they’re thinking only offense and not thinking about how they can impact winning without making shots, that’s when it gets tough and I think inconsistency sets in.”
On how much the SEC Tournament can help Tennessee players who have missed time due to injuries
“I think the last couple days they’ve had more time. We didn’t do anything other than some individual work the last two days. Won’t do a lot today, obviously, because our plans are to go to Nashville and hopefully stay for four days. So we’ve got, again, to make sure we keep our legs and all that, getting ready for just the first game, and because it’s an ‘every game is a championship game’ (mindset). With that said, I thought Tyreke (Key) and Julian (Phillips), I really like their disposition they shoed during the (Auburn) game. And I will tell you, from a defensive standpoint, not one guy played well defensively (at Auburn). We need that back from everybody more than anything.”
On what stood out from the film session looking back at the entire regular season
“One, how fine a line winning and losing is. And how sometimes you get some tough breaks, other times you get some breaks. But hoping that the mistakes that we made in certain situations, we won’t make those again, obviously, this time of year. And understanding, probably more than anything, how there’s so much that goes into preparation. Like I said, you ask your team, any coach asks their team, after every game, I think they would say, when you don’t play well, what was your mindset going in? And I’m telling you, I’ve never had a player say well, I didn’t think we could win. They’ve always said I felt great, I thought we were ready to go. All I said to them was whatever your mindset was at Auburn, let’s not do that one again. Let’s not do that one. So whatever you guys individually had, let’s not do that one again. But you know, we had one of those (against) Colorado, same thing. And a couple throughout the season. But I do know that a lot of what we went through in February, with the injuries, kept guys from getting in a rhythm and wondering. Because they work so hard and it’s hard on them when they want to play, more than you can even imagine. They’ve faced some adversity and it’s tough. But I’ve said these guys have been resilient. You guys were here watching them today, they were working, will continue to work. I do think that we have a confident basketball team.”
On how special the way Santiago Vescovi is able to move without the basketball in his hands is
“It’s his conditioning that’s really amazing. I can tell you that during games you can hear players say to him, ‘Will you stop moving?’ You can truly hear, ‘Would you just stop for a bit?’ Because he’s constantly moving and he would say back to them, ‘Yeah, if you would let me shoot it without having to work as hard to get it.’ But he has to work so hard to get his shots because people know he’s good at it and he’s good at moving. He creates so many good looks for guys. If you go back and look from an analytical standpoint, we get some really good high percentage shots and so much of it is because he’s being guarded by more than one guy and people are so locked in on him. His shot-fakes, getting into the gaps, those type of things.
“But we had too much on him Saturday. He was trying and not that — he’s going to do whatever he does, but he doesn’t ever want to come out of the game and we have to get him out of the game because 39 minutes doing what he’s doing on both ends is doing too much.”
On how much last year’s SEC Tournament experience can help them this year
“I think they do know that every game has to be championship game. It has to be and the effort and the details and getting ready for a mindset that that’s what it is because a week from now, it is real. You can either have two or 10 games. But to do that you have to have everybody. We can’t be talking about inconsistencies. We can’t. This is a new start to the third part of the season that you go into and it’s time for everybody to where we can’t be talking about inconsistencies or not understanding roles, whatever. It’s time everybody does exactly what this team needs them to do to help us move on.”
On preventing guys from having tired legs when they’re playing everyday
“The ideal thing would be to be up a lot and play guys. That would be the ideal thing, but that’s not going to happen. They’re built for it. We played for three days down in Atlantis earlier in the year. The key is that we go into the first game as fresh as we can and work it. Again, we’ve said all year that every game will take on a different personality and we’ll see. I do know this. We do have confidence in our guys that maybe haven’t played as much as they would like to and maybe we’d like to get them out there, but we’re not afraid to put any of them out there.”
On BJ Edwards not playing at Auburn
“Being in a game there and trying to get Julian (Phillips) and Tyreke (Key) minutes because we were trying to get Tyreke back in it as much as we could and Julian minutes. But, again, from here on out, we’re going to have to do what we have to do.”