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Everything Rick Barnes Said Before Tennessee’s Rematch Against Texas A&M

Rick Barnes
Tennessee HC Rick Barnes. Photo via Tennessee Athletics 

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the local media on Friday before the Vols host Texas A&M at Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center on Saturday night.

The Vols are looking to avenge their loss in College Station two years ago and improve their winning streak to four games ahead of an incredibly difficult finals stretch of the regular season.

Barnes discussed Tennessee’s big lineup that played well at Missouri, what Tennessee needs to do better against the Aggies and much more. Here’s everything Barnes said.

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On Tennessee facing Texas A&M for the second time in two weeks

“It feels like a long time ago in some ways, we’ve had so many other games in between, but anytime you go through the second go round, you do have some familiarity with it. But still the prep has got to be the same. And I do know that you’ve got to do a lot better job defensively than we did the first time.”

On the confidence he has in Tennessee’s two-big lineup, with Jonas Aidoo and Tobe Awaka in the post together, after relying on it in the win at Missouri

“I’ve always had confidence in it. It’s just a matter of when we need it, what we think is going to work and how we’re playing. But yeah, the fact that they came through for us the other night was a big plus for all of us. Because those were the two guys that were the difference in the game.”

On what the key is for Tobe Awaka and Jonas Aidoo playing off of each other when they’re on the floor together 

“Defense. Because of our defensive package, that they both can get into ball screens, and sometimes we’ll switch one through five. Normally we’ll go one through four, but one of them at the four, which would probably be Tobe, he would be doing more switching than he’s normally used to. But he did a good job the other night and he’s gotten better with it. And so the better all of those guys get where we can switch, it helps us.”

On what he liked about Tobe Awaka on the offensive end in Tennessee’s win at Missouri

“Positioning. I thought he worked hard to get his space and he’s getting better. And he’s a guy that he plays with force. He works hard to try to get his space for the most part. And we need that, whether it’s with Jonas or whoever’s in the game.”

On how he feels Tennessee’s rebounding has improved since the first game against Texas A&M

“It’s got to get better. You’re talking about a team that again, there’s none better (at rebounding) really. And it’s not just a matter of blocking out. You’ve got to be able to go finish the play and go get it. So I think anybody that plays against, some of the best teams know that rebounding is a major part of it and we’ve got to continue to get better there. I don’t think we are where we want to be and certainly what we need to be. We need to be there tomorrow.”

On what they’ve seen from Texas A&M in the Aggies’ three losses since the Tennessee game

“I know one thing, they’ve played hard. You go back and look at the Alabama game where Alabama I think made 18 threes. (Texas A&M’s) effort was phenomenal. I think they what, 27 rebound offensive rebounds. And Buzz’s teams are going to play hard, but they’re going to go at it. And I think if you talk to coaches in general, it’s when you’re not making shots, it’s difficult. When you are, it makes it look easy, a little bit more room for error. But I can only tell you, they continue to play hard and aggressive and do what they do.  But our league has a lot to do with it. And the fact that you know each other so well and games are going to be decided by a couple possessions here or there.”

On if losing poise is something that can be corrected at this time of year

“Well, I think it is if you can look at yourself and be real with yourself and know that, and poise, it can work a couple different ways. I mean when things aren’t going well as a team and each player thinks, well I got to go make something happen. That’d losing your poise as a team and not trusting your teammates and trusting what we’ve done and what we do to get us to this point. And that’s a form of toughness too. Staying calm, cool, collected when it’s not going your way. But know that if you continue to let your habits work, you’d like to think in the end it’s going to work out for you. But I think it’s something that it’s learned. I’m not sure anybody’s born with it. I think it’s something by going through adversity and different trials in different areas they learn how to deal with it. And it’s important especially from a guard standpoint.”

On if the Missouri game was a step in the right direction of regaining poise

“Well, I thought, I do think that when we went big and that group we were down when we put that group in and we had a group out there. And again, defensively we were solid. But just the fact that those guys were able to come in and play the way they did, I think just shows that the versatility that we can play with our team and I mean, we could end up putting Josiah back on the perimeter where he played a lot so we can get even bigger if we want to. But it’s a matter of still, we’ve got to continue to improve defensively and with everything we’re doing on that end.”

On what it says about Dalton Knecht that he missed his first six shots at Missouri before finishing six of eight

“Again. That’s what I think good offensive players do. There’s going to be nights you make them, nights you don’t. But all we’ve told him is that he can score a lot of different ways. He doesn’t have to be making threes, he can get out and run. He can get to the offensive boards. He can play in the mid range and we do a lot to try to get him the ball when we think he’s effective. Where I think he wants the ball, but he can, again, score many different levels but the fact is I do think he’s a guy that has that mindset. I think the Jordan Gainey’s got that mindset. I think Zakai Zeigler’s got that mindset. They think the next one’s going to go in and they’re not afraid to keep shooting it.”

On Aidoo playing all 20 minutes in the second half against Missouri on Tuesday night; how much he has grown in that area of his game

“I think his cardio toughness has gotten — I mean it’s night and day from where it was a year ago and, especially when he’s being game planned for and teams are really trying to be physical with him, but he impacts the game (with) his length, (and he’s a) major force around the rim. He’s got so much more room for growth and we’re hoping he’ll keep pushing the way he is right now to get there.”

On what he’s looking for from his team against Texas A&M:

“Effort. Do what we talk about. We all have a gameplan. Within that gameplan, you have to be willing to be able to make adjustments, knowing too that we’re playing against a team that beat us in pretty much any way that you want to beat somebody, they did it. But it’s about our focus and I know we’ve got great respect for A&M and the job that Buzz (Williams) does with this team. They’re gonna come in here — I mean, every game for everybody, it’s a huge game for everybody. I don’t care if the arena’s checkered or not. The fact is it’s gonna be decided between the lines.”

On how much freshman forward J.P. Estrella’s leg injury set him back; if he feels like Estrella can reach the point of helping them again

“He’s starting to work his way back in and it’s at the right time ’cause we need him. ‘Cause I mean, you guys watched the other night, you go into games with different thoughts and as the game goes on, you adjust while you’re in the game. He’s a guy that we think can score the ball for us and he’s had moments where he is played well. We just, again, we need him to be ready when his number’s called.”

On how he’s seen freshman forward Cade Phillips develop

“I have no problem putting him in the game. I don’t. As a coaching staff, we know he’s gonna play hard and he’s gonna do what we need him to do. And I think he knows now exactly what we need from him. And I think he’s going to do that.”

On what the managers mean to the program

“They’re such a huge part of our program. I mean, not only are they respected by everyone here, but our players have a great deal of respect for ’em in the way they treat ’em. They know they’re there to help ’em, they’re not gonna take advantage of that. They’re not expecting our managers to wait on them hand and foot, but they know that they’ve got their backs. 

“We’ve always had great managers, guys that really want to be a part of it. And the fun part is how many of them have come in and want to be coaches. Some of ’em have gone on, they’re in the NBA now and so it’s been fun watching guys as different paths that come through here, but so many of ’em, again, as have used this situation to get into coaching or administrations It’s been good for ’em and we couldn’t go on without ’em. They’re highly appreciated and respected.”

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