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Everything Rick Barnes Said About Tennessee’s Physicality, Sweet 16 Matchup With FAU

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes met with the media Monday afternoon before his team takes off for New York City and the Sweet 16 Tuesday afternoon.

The Vols are back in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019 after knocking off Louisiana and Duke this past weekend in Orlando.

Barnes discussed his team’s physicality, what makes Florida Atlantic so good and much more.

Here’s everything Barnes said Monday afternoon.

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On the narrative that Tennessee played dirty against Duke

“You know, really, I don’t put any thought into it. I haven’t heard (it), not really. I think playing good, hard basketball, it’s not something nice to look at. I know our guys played hard. I know Duke played hard, too. Again, I’m on the Rules Committee and the referees did what they thought was right. And I thought they officiated the game the way they felt it went. But from our perspective, I didn’t see anything dirty from either team.”

On Tennessee keeping an underdog mentality as favorites this weekend

“We’ve talked about it. I’m not sure we’re not the underdog, when you look at a team that has won 33 games, that beat Florida, who beat us. A team that, again, you win 33 games, you talk about a model of consistency. They’ve certainly done that and earned everything they’ve got. And everything you talk to about, they rave about them as a team. They understand what they want to do together as a team. But 33 wins speaks for itself. But the mindset, we’ve talked about it all year long, whatever our guys have to do to make them decide we have to go out and play at the highest level, they’ve got to do that. Whether it’s just talking the talk or whatever, I just want to see them go out there and do what we need to do to win.”

On why he started Uros Plavsic against Louisiana and Duke

“Physicality. We felt we needed to start the game and try to get physical, because we played against post players that were really physical. We thought it was important that we got off to a good start. He’s done a good job. I thought he was, again, a little bit amped up (early against Duke). Again, after watching the tape, the first two fouls, it wasn’t flagrant. At the time, even our team, we just wanted to play basketball. That’s who he is, that’s his emotion with it. But we need him. I’ve said all year long, we need all these guys. But he’s certainly done what we’ve asked him to do.”

On the challenge of defending FAU’s three-point shooters

“It’s a challenge, it really is. They shoot it with confidence. They really do a good job of knowing where each guy is one the court. They do a good job of getting in gaps and passing the ball, delivering it on the money. They have some guys that have as quick of a realize as anybody we’ve played against all year. Where the pass is there, they don’t need any time to get it off. But they spread it out and run really good offense. Like I said, 33 wins to me speaks for everything that they’re about.”

On FAU coach Dusty May saying they would prepare for Australian rugby rules while preparing to play Tennessee, how he interprets that quote

“Well, you know what, I took a Big East All-Star Team to Australia back in ’90. We went to a match and I enjoyed it. I thought it was good. I liked the way the referee does all that (signaling) stuff. I enjoyed watching it. You know what, I would probably pay to go see it. We were free that day, but I would pay to go see it.”

On if they tried to get Olivier Nkamhoua more looks against Duke

“We didn’t do anything that we haven’t done all year. After the first shot, he put up a left-handed hook, I said hey, don’t shoot that shot. You’ve got to get to your high release. From that point on, he did. I said it after the game, for him, as hard as he works, it was great to see him have a day like that, at that time. Because if anyone deserves it, he did.”

On if he anticipated Duke playing zone defense

“We did. We told our team we felt that at some point in time that they would go zone and really, the way they play it is, when we started the year and the way we play our zone is somewhat the same way. So, we knew what we would go to, but yeah, we thought at some point that they could do that.”

On playing several games in New York City in recent years

“I don’t know. I think this time of year it’s just the moment of being in the NCAA and being apart of 16 teams that are left in the tournament. It brings great excitement. I thought what Jahmai Mashack said when somebody asked him about the tournament, he said just growing up as a kid, wanting to be in the tournament and the excitement of it alone is what gets guys excited, but going to New York — again, we were in New York and Brooklyn earlier in the year. I think they’re just going to be excited the fact that we’re playing. Wherever we would be.”

On if this year’s team is one of his more physical teams

“You know, when you use the word physicality — we’re strong, we’ve got length now with Zakai (Zeigler) being out because you can put a guy in like Jahmai Mashack that’s almost 200 pounds and taller. And Tyreke Key. And Santi (Vescovi). Those guys, they work hard and they play hard. Teams run such good offense, if you’re not willing to try to keep up and get through screens the best you can, you’re going to give up shots.  So when people say physicality, I’m not sure exactly what that means. Does that mean when the shot goes up you’re going to block somebody out where everybody knows that’s part of the game where it is physical and you have to put bodies on people, but sometimes we do it well. Sometimes we don’t. Is physicality fouling? We don’t want to foul. I can tell you that. We don’t want teams parading to the line on us, but we are an older, stronger team with big guys. You’d have to define physicality in terms of how do we use it. I would say what I was trying to say earlier, we’re trying to play as hard as we can play. If that’s being physical, I guess we’re going to be physical.”

On his experience helping this team in the Sweet 16

“Well, you know, whether you believe it or not, there’s a lot of times as coaches where people think we have more control than we do. The play that Santi made right in front of the bench when he crossed over, raised up and shot that, it’s not like we work on that shot every day. Players get lost in games. I think that what you count on and bank on this time of year is repetition, your work, the way you’ve worked all year and I think everybody works at this game. Again, we haven’t been in a game this year when we’ve played a team that hasn’t played hard. We haven’t been in a game this year when the team hasn’t been well coach. But this time of year is about guys hopefully being as fresh as you can and healthy as you can. Then, you certainly hope you’re playing at the highest level you can play. I think if you change a lot and go back and try and do a bunch of different things, you send a negative wave to them in ‘why weren’t you doing this earlier?’ They know we’re going to make adjustments and tweak something here or there, but the fact is we’ve got to do what has got us here.”

On if Santiago Vescovi is playing his best basketball right now

“Santi has been consistent all year. If you would have told me, and I think I said this after the game, that he would have scored three points against Louisiana, I’m not sure we thought we would have moved on. But the fact is that I think that’s probably his lowest point total of the year. He impacts winning in so many different ways. It’s what he does defensively. People guard him, they chase him, it’s hard for him. I said after the game that I don’t know if anyone has been fouled more this year than him. He doesn’t complain. He just keeps on going. Does he get frustrated a little bit? I think he did a little bit in the Louisiana game, but normally, he’s used to it. And he feels by doing that, he’s learned how to help make his teammates better by the way he’s being guarded.”

On the challenges of officiating a guy like Uros Plavsic

“I think in his situation, I think referees — first of all, refereeing is a really hard job. It’s happening so fast. There’s big guys, speed, quickness going on out there, but I think that some of the things that Uros has done through his career, you can become a guy that is a marked man. And I will tell you I do think that the latter part of this year, he got some calls that when you look at it, you kind of think that he’s a marked man a little bit. Probably more so in your conference, but even though you have referees that work our league that work the NCAA (Tournament) and I know that if people knew Uros — and some guys need whatever it is to get them going. Whatever that might be, but we’re always talking to him about ‘don’t do anything that is going to hurt us.’ We want him to play hard, we want him to do his job. We don’t want to foul regardless of what people might think. We don’t want to foul. 

“But he is strong. He’s big. He’s got really good feet. He’s quicker than more people would probably suspect. Like, his ball-screen defense was terrific against Duke the other night. That’s why he was in there a lot. Because he was doing a really good job there. But there’s things in the post, like when he popped his hands back, we teach that. But when he popped them back and I know he didn’t do it on purpose, but his hand went back and hit the Duke player in the face. You’ve got to call the foul. It was inadvertent. 

“Just the same thing with Santi when he had the ball. He swept the ball across and the ball hit the player’s face, but your hands are part of the ball, so that’s a foul. All of that is inadvertent when two teams are playing hard because the officials are certainly going to protect people from getting hit in the face which they should. I know that (Uros) knows enough by now that his teammates and all of us, we want him to make sure he plays the game and doesn’t let his emotion get the best of him.”

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