Tennessee guard Santiago Vescovi. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes met with the local media Friday ahead of the Vols’ rematch with South Carolina Saturday night.
The Vols dominated South Carolina 85-42 last month in Columbia but Tennessee has struggled in recent weeks while the Gamecocks have started playing a little better.
Here’s everything Barnes said ahead of the SEC rematch.
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On how South Carolina has changed since the last time they played
“I think they have changed in terms of they’ve really settled into a lineup. I think back when we played them early, they were searching like I think all teams are that time of year and trying to figure out who they are and how they want to play. Again, I think they’ve done a terrific job of getting better each each and every game. They’ve settled in with the players they’ve gotten and we saw what they did the other night. They had the No. 2 team in the country on the ropes with a chance to win it. That speaks volumes about their players and their coaching staff.”
On what needs to happen to avoid foul trouble
“We talk to our guys about the discipline part of it. I know we got guys that are competitive and I know we got guys that think they can keep guys from getting shots off, but we can’t keep putting ourself in a position to where we’re overly aggressive. That’s who we are, that’s what we’re built on, but we have to avoid contact on shooters on the perimeter trying to contest shots. We’re fouling too much inside when we’re slapping down, trying to come up with deflections, but we’re just reaching in at the wrong time and not making the right play. That’s where we gotta improve and eliminate those kind of fouls.”
On games being called differently from night to night
“I do think every game takes on its personality. I do. I really do. Knowing what’s going to go night in and night out, I’m not sure. It would be interesting to see how the players would answer that question. All I can tell you is we tell our guys we have to get settled in. We’ve gotta understand each game is going to have its own personality and you’ve got different officials on each game. You’ve got to adjust to what’s going on.”
On Uros Plavsic only playing three minutes against Texas A&M
“Productivity and again, we’ve talked about it. We know every guy has a specific role they have to play. Thought Tobe (Awaka) was being effective. Olivier (Nkamhoua) had great presence there. Jonas (Aidoo) got in foul trouble, but just felt like Tobe and Oliver were in a good spot.”
On what has gone well for Santiago Vescovi the last couple of games offensively and if he’s asserting himself differently
“I think that’s a little bit to it. I was really impressed. He didn’t practice leading up to the A&M game because he had some issues he was dealing with. I thought his focus, and again, Santi is a guy that does makes those adjustments game to game in terms of whatever the personality of the game is without they’re guarding him, things like that. Santi can go from a guy that absolutely teams just don’t give him a look at all. Sometimes I think when he gets a wide open look he’s somewhat surprised but he knows how to adjust and do what he needs to do to effect the game one way or another.”
On if Josiah-Jordan James and Julian Phillips will play
“I think so. How much, we don’t know. I think that will be a game-time decision. They both were in practice with us yesterday. They’ll be back out there. I haven’t talked Jo, as you would expect. He actually put a good load in yesterday. Probably more than we thought he would or expect him to. He wanted to do it. You know he is going to be a little bit sore. He is certainly not 100%. Julian, yesterday, didn’t do quite as much but was out there. I know our team admires them for them trying to push through. They’ve got injuries. They want to help their team win. There is no doubt about that. We will see how it all goes today.”
On Jahmai Mashack’s role with players back
“We don’t expect his role to change at all. We expect him to continue to do what he is doing and get better at what he is doing.”
On what a stretch like this can mean
“I am really proud of these guys. They know that we have had opportunities. They know that we had games. But this team has been resilient. With all of the things they’ve had to deal with. We love them. I can tell you this, through this time, we haven’t had a bad practice. We haven’t had a bad preparation for a game. We’d like to make some more shots here or there. Again, this time of year, people are getting better. Everyone is getting better. In some ways through this, we have gotten better, too. I think you have seen some guys emerge we know that we can count on at any point in time. You have to really feel like when you are going through the valley you are growing maybe your most. Getting the other guys back I think will just continue to give guys confidence they don’t have to try to do too much. They’ve got guys that can help them. I think they feel whatever we have to go on the court with, regardless we’ve got a chance every night we go out there because I think their effort, their personalities and their resiliency. From a coaching staff standpoint, we are really proud of these guys. We know they want to win more than anybody. As a program, we want to win. But we have a group of guys that really care a great deal about winning and about each other.”
On if the resiliency this team shows now can help them in March
“Yeah, I think it (can). I think it helps us right now. You go back to the games we’ve lost, they’ve been right there. Obviously we haven’t, I can sit here and say we haven’t had our four group of guys. But I think where the resiliency comes in is the fact that whether we’re down one guy, two guys or three guys, these guys truly believe in each other, that they can win games. It would be great to say that we could go through the whole year without any type of adversity. But I don’t know of any team that does that. But where we want to be, yeah, I think it comes back around at some point in time. And I certainly hope we can get it going.”
On the importance of being a top four team in the SEC Tournament
“I think conference tournaments are big. You want to win. Every year there will be a debate. Is it good to win the (conference) tournament or not. Again, I don’t know of anybody that’s worth their weight in salt that doesn’t want to win any time you go out on the court. But you go back to a year ago, Texas A&M proved that if you have the drive to get there, you can get there, regardless. Just from a logical standpoint, yeah, you’d rather play one less game. Wherever it shakes out, it shakes out.”
On South Carolina losing an overtime game before this one
“I think you have to give South Carolina great credit. They fought hard, I said it when I first started, it’s a real compliment to their players and their coaching staff that they fought hard every game, and they haven’t won, certainly, as many games— we all want to win them all— but the fact that they were willing to fight the way they fought and they have fought. They’ve fought all year long. I can’t tell you when they didn’t. Like all of us, early in the year when the coaching staff is putting together a team and program, a lot of things being put in place and the fact that this late in the year where they’ve been for them to go fight like they fought. They’ll come in here, again, they had a great win at LSU. I think they made 15 threes so they’re going to go play. This time of year, players play and they have a coaching staff that knows they’re building not only for the game tomorrow but for a SEC Tournament. There’s a bid out there to be had by, it doesn’t matter who it is, and like I said it’s been shown teams can come out of nowhere to do that. Everybody has something to play for and certainly South Carolina did the other night and they’ll continue to do that.”
On what he would like to improve on in final three games
“I think we want to play and continue to get better in terms of the things we talked about. We’ve got to clean up and be more disciplined with fouling. There’s no question about that. I still think we have some areas on the offensive end that we’ve got to be more sure of the ball and where we want to put the ball at certain times with certain players, but from that point of view that’s where we’d like to see the improvement because we’re going to be in possession games pretty much from here on out and understanding that we’ve got to take care of the ball. Understanding that we’ve got to make people make baskets instead of putting them on the free throw line. It goes back to one word would be discipline.”
On Tobe Awaka shooting free throws well against Texas A&M
“I think it shows you what, when a person has a bad night and are willing to come in the gym on their own and put extra time in and do all that and you care as much as he cares when it does work for him you feel good because he put work in that pays off.”