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Everything Rick Barnes Said Previewing Tennessee Basketball’s Matchup Against Auburn

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the local media Tuesday afternoon before the fourth-ranked Vols prepare to host No. 11 Auburn on Wednesday night.

The matchup has huge meaning on the SEC Championship race as Auburn is a game behind Tennessee and Alabama atop the SEC standings.

Ahead of the game, Barnes discussed Auburn star, Johni Broome, the SEC Championship race and much more. Here’s everything Barnes said.

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On a top-15 matchup between No. 4 Tennessee and No. 11 Auburn this late in the season

“Yeah, I think this time of year, I think everybody realizes that the year’s regular season is coming to an end. And you look at, the way conference sets up schedules, they’re really looking to get the teams, in terms of pre-season projection, playing this time of year to try to help them, if they’re where they’re supposed to be, stay there. But also, maybe enhance where they can move forward. And so you look down at our schedule right now, and certainly you’ve got to give a lot of credit to South Carolina, I think they were picked last in the league and Lamont (Paris) has done just a terrific job in putting this team right there in contention with everybody. But this time of year, if you’re not excited there is something wrong.”

On if he remembers any previous schedules ending with four ranked teams, four Quad 1 games

“No. I remember through the years being in a position where we, the schedule we had, you knew you had to win if you wanted to get in the postseason tournament. But in terms of being where we are with this, I think one’s a great thing to embrace and understand that it can really help you moving forward if you had the right mindset with it because you’ve got great respect for your opponents coming in and the ones you got to go play. And so there’s really no other way to look at it other than this is what we have and we’ve got to be ready knowing that everybody we’re playing is just as good as we are and could be better, if we’re not ready to play. But it’s here. It’ll go by quicker than we all can imagine.”

On if it’s an advantage that Tennessee has an older team when approaching the next two weeks

“Well, again, you’d like to think our older guys — and you’re right, they, they’ve been through it — they’ve been through a lot of games together and have had different meanings in different ways sometimes. But I do think the older guys understand where we are, what we’re playing for, and I know they have a really healthy respect for our league and the teams we’ve got in front of us. But I just hope that we can play good basketball.”

On how to keep a day-to-day mindset this time of year and avoid this Tennessee team getting caught looking ahead to the postseason 

“It’s about us getting better. And I know you guys get tired of me saying that, but it’s consistency, getting better, all that mindset. And it’s something that each day you’ve got to talk about it. Because you realize there’s a lot going on in their lives outside of what we do here. And there’s things that some people wouldn’t even realize. They have families, too, and different things. But trying to just keep a focus really on where we are as a team and when we’re here together and make the most of that time and when the lights come on that we’re ready to play.” 

On last year’s game at home against Auburn being low scoring, what he expects Wednesday

“Well, I think every time you play Auburn, I mean Bruce is such a terrific coach and does a great job and his schemes are good and teams play hard, aggressive and last year here, that was not a really pretty game for either one of us. I think it was in the forties. But, again, the respect that we have for him and his program, our guys, the older guys especially have been there. They know what to expect.”

On slowing down Johni Broome

“I don’t know if he’s getting the recognition he deserves. I think he’s one, truly one of the top post players in the country and the guy that can go inside, outside and just does a lot of different things for them. And you look at the years, last year I thought he was a handful for us and we expect that now.”

On Broome’s ability as a passer

“Well it is. He does pass the ball extremely well for his position. But he (is a) shot blocker. He can do that. But obviously he can get inside. I think he’s poised, he is patient with the ball and you try to throw different defenses at him, he’s going to look around and try to find the right guy and make the right play.”

On Auburn’s Jaylin Williams being questionable, his development

“Really you got to give him and that staff and a lot of credit for his development. Because he’s just continued to get better and better and he, again, can do a lot of different things. And he presents a lot of problems himself. And obviously every time we go into a game like this, we plan for him to play and he’s a difference maker for them and Bruce knows it. We know it. And so we’ve gotta be ready for that.”

On Tennessee’s improved interior offense 

“Well, again, I’d like to say I wish we’d had it earlier and now we got to continue to be consistent with it. And I said before that position’s dependent on the perimeter guys doing their jobs to get the ball where it needs to be, when it needs to get there. And that’s something, again, part of getting better every day. That part of what we’re doing we can improve on.”

On how much more impressive Zakai Zeigler’s performance was against Texas A&M after going back and watching the film

“Probably more so because you get to see the subtle things that he was doing with his eyes looking off and seeing things. But it’s really neat and I think it probably takes a player two years to really understand our break the way you want it to. And you know, when Zakai first came in, he was more of a scorer, but now you can see he’s starting to see a lot of things out there and his poise with the ball waiting for guys to get where they should have been was really impressive. He continues to understand more and more what his looks are.”

On how much Tobe Awaka has improved his ability to space the floor, especially in a two-big lineup

“Well, offensively, I mean he’s still getting better at that. I think both of ’em are there, but you know, Tobe is a guy that plays with two post guys every day. When we’re mostly going against each other, you haveJonas and Josiah (James), but Tobe’s normally with JP (Estrella) or with Cade (Phillips). So he’s used to it, probably more so than Jonas, but yet I thought Tobe’s ball-screen defense is probably the best it’s been since he’s been here and he’s gotta continue to do that. And offensively he’s learning more and more about space on the court where he can get it and where he needs to get it and how much quicker he needs to play with the ball.”

On what they’ve done this week to prepare for Auburn

“We go about it just pretty much the same way in terms of, you know, after the game we come in and go through what we did well, what we didn’t do well against Texas A&M and areas that we’ve gotta get better with. And then we jump right into Auburn and the preparation’s the same, in terms of it, but when we talk about personnel and go through our scout, we go through it as if (Jaylin Williams is) there. And again, you expect some tweaks here or there that we’re gonna have to deal with. I mean, they know us probably as well as we know them, but there’s gonna be some things you gotta get ready for that they might do that we haven’t seen. And I’m sure they might think the same way, but it’s about from the time that we turn the page for us to get done what we need to get done, it’s players being locked in.”

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