Transcript: Rick Barnes recaps UK, previews Vandy game

Vols HC Rick Barnes / Credit: UT Athletics

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the media on Monday afternoon to recap Saturday’s game against Kentucky and to preview Wednesday’s contest at Vanderbilt.

On Kentucky and South Carolina both being able to shoot a high three-point percentage against Tennessee this past week:
“Well I think you have to give them credit for it obviously. I think it was what got South Carolina playing well. I think most teams when they start making some of those threes it gives them some confidence and I don’t think it was any question that span of the game was if you really break it down, that was a big part of the game because they made some threes. Some of them were tougher than others, but they made them. On the other hand, at that point in time, we could not really buy one. But I do know if there was anything to do other than—like I said the other night, there were some breakdowns in our scouting report. I don’t think we got back in the way we wanted to in terms of getting our feet set and ready to play a defender coming at you one-on-one with the ability to pull up or step back and coming off some screens. Again, they still made the shot regardless of what we did or didn’t do.”

On how much Coach Barnes thinks about the teams seeding in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament:
“The bottom line is you are wanting to win games. I don’t care what you think you are playing for—and all that stuff is out there, and you know it—the bottom line is if you want to play basketball, you want to win games. And you believe that you can get to where you can play basketball this time of year regardless. You do want to play games. I will tell you that this time of year you want to play games. Do you want easier routs through certain things like tournaments? Absolutely. I mean anybody would want that, but through the years not all that has proven to be the same? Sometimes teams that get started early are able to keep playing and get into a better rhythm. All I can say this year is I think this is a year for all of us where I don’t know if any of us can use the word rhythm, because there has been no rhythm. But the fact is where we are this year you just have to play good, consistent basketball, but we haven’t done that. And I can tell you this, our guys want to play consistent basketball. I know how badly John Fulkerson wants to play well. I know how badly Jaden, Keon and all of them want to sometimes. I can’t put a finger on it, and they can’t put a finger on it because some guys are still learning. There is no question about that. And as a team, you know the mental side of this game is not talked about near enough in terms of what players go through. What the ups and downs that they have to deal with and we try all different kinds of things to try to get them out of it. All of the things you ask about, yeah you talk about it sometimes to use it as a motivational piece as what we need to do, but the bottom line is, we have coached teams that weren’t playing very well at the end of the year and went on to win a tournament. Other teams that were playing really well got knocked out in the first round. The year we went to the final four we got beat in the first round or second round by Texas Tech, and I remember coach Knight shaking my hand and saying, ‘Hey this is good for you, now go win a national championship.’ At the time when you lose games, you don’t ever feel like it’s good for you, but it is what it is.”

On what the most pressing things the team has to focus on in practice over the next few weeks to achieve the team’s goals next month:
“We need to get consistent scoring from inside. We need John Fulkerson and Yves Pons to really contribute for us. There are going to be nights when you can’t make threes. We have tried to work through posting our guards up too, because you have to have a presence in there somehow. It would help us a lot if those guys would give us what we know they are capable of giving us, because we can still post our guards at times, but we would still need more from our front line. I will say this, if Josiah comes back he gives us some more on the front line when we go to the small lineup and more offense than we have been generating constantly all year.”

On Vanderbilt playing better over their last three games and what they are doing differently now since the first time Tennessee played them:
“Well, they have certainly gotten better in a lot of different areas. I think they have different players obviously. Pippen has played well. Disu I think is really an underrated player. But they have the ability to shoot the ball. They run a lot of different offensive sets where you have to be on edge there because they do shoot it well. I think that they have had it where they are a little more consistent with an inside game and they are mixing defenses so they can show a little bit more pressure if they want to. They have gotten better, and I think most teams do try to get better as the year goes on, but I also think they can count on you more than just one player to help.”

On the status of Josiah-Jordan James:
“Yeah it is a sprain, but he is trying. I mean, he is doing everything he can. We keep doing what we need to do from a medical side. Believe me, we need him. His leadership is very valuable to us which I think is evident Saturday since we missed that. But with that said, he is doing all he can, and it is just a day-to-day deal, and we will see what happens between now and whenever he can get back, but he is trying.

On the status of Josiah Jordan James has been able to do anything in practice:
“No, he tried and couldn’t, and he even tried before the game the other night just to go through warm-ups, but he just didn’t feel like he could be a factor with it.”

On how much Yves Pons is limited by his knee situation:
“Yeah, I think it is a problem, but he would never say it because he is just not one of those guys. He isn’t going to say it, he is going to try to go out and battle and do it. That’s Yves. But with the reps in practice, we have to really monitor his load right now, and I think that hurts him, because he is a guy who wants to take every rep if he can. I think he is better if he can do that, but we just can’t do it with him.”

On if he thinks Yves has been more hesitant offensively since he got hurt:
“I think he has been a little bit. Like I was saying earlier, we need he and Fulky to get aggressive. We ask them to do it. Fulky did it in the South Carolina game, and reverted back to pretty much what he’s been most of the year. They’ve got to get more involved, and the way our offense is set up it’s up to them to do it. We can run sets for them, but when you do that sometimes it puts them in disadvantageous situation, because people are loading up on them, as opposed to when they can catch in the flow and do the things we like to see them do. Both of those guys need to get more hungry and want to go score the basketball.”

On if John Fulkerson has any kind of injury or ailment currently, or is it just all mental:
“I wish I knew that answer. We’ve spent a lot of time with Fulky, all of us, in some way in trying to get him to do this or that. Like I said earlier, he wants to do it. We look at players and have expectations obviously, and he knows it too. I don’t think there’s any question he’s probably hurting more than anybody, because I know it means a lot to him. It means a lot to his teammates, but he’s struggling. It’s tough to watch, because the fact that he’s been such a big part of what we’ve done here. I don’t think he has answers, and we’ve tried to create answers even when we don’t have it, just trying to get to the core part of it. The fact is, I’ve been doing this long enough to know that I’ve watched a lot of great basketball players go through it, and it’s not fun, and it’s equally not fun for him knowing your teammates are counting on you. We just can’t seem to get the way you want it to for him. I think if any of us knew that answer, we would fix it because of the feeling we have towards him and what he deserves.”

On if there are any updates if the Florida game will be rescheduled, or if Kentucky was the last home game:
“We don’t know yet, and we won’t know for now.”

On what the conversations are like with Fulky such as when he kicks out to a shot instead of trying to score:
“It’s trying to say to him that a year ago, it wasn’t the case, and some of those he needs to shoot, because it’s going to get him on the foul line. It’s important that your post players, even if they aren’t making shots, to get some fouls in there, whether you make the basket or not. I think he’s missed a couple of those, and I do think it’s mental, I do. But those two answers you gave would be the two answers that he would say, whether he wasn’t ready or saw somebody that had a better shot. Again, post players are going to have to take some contested shots, especially when you aren’t shooting it well, because you are still trying to get the free throw line if you can’t make a shot. We had that feeling Saturday. We got in there a couple times and shot shots we think we can make. Again, it’s a mental battle he’s going through right now.”

On why teams have been able to beat them on baseline inbounds plays, whether it is lapse of the scouting report or attention:
“Well, you just answered the question—lapse of attention and details. Kentucky got a dunk Saturday, and we were yelling from the bench that we knew exactly what they were doing. It goes back to when you’re not playing well, your head’s somewhere else.  I think if you made a bad play, if you don’t let it go and stay in the present moment, you’re going to give up the basket. I can go back to every one of those. The guys off the top that have been beat on backdoor plays, where they were just having not anything to do with the play. I know VJ got beat on one, Josiah got beat on one, Keon has got beat on one, and Jaden has. With all those guys, if you go and watch it, they weren’t playing great, and they weren’t locked into playing as if every possession matters and they got burnt.”

On if he thought their defense was better in the second half against Kentucky:
“Well, they made some shots. When you’re making shots, it makes this game look so much better. Some nights you don’t even play well, but you make shots that look good. You’re just making shots. They had players that we knew that could shoot the three, and our scouting report was to guard them, but they made a couple tough shots off one-on-one isolation plays. We’ve done that too, where when we’re playing well, with some tough shots Keon and Jaden made. Nothing looks good when you aren’t making shots, even when you execute, none of it looks good. When you’re making shots it’s good. When you’re making shots like they did in the first half, they didn’t allow us to get out and go at all in transition. So, because of that, we were getting deeper in the clock. It goes back to we either took shots we should’ve kicked out for a better shot, and that got to where we reverted back to where a couple of guys were on their heels, and not demanding the ball. It forces a couple guys to try to make something happen, to take difficult shots, because their mindset is when they run a play, their guy isn’t demanding the ball the way he should, and now the clock gets down and we got guys that go force the issue, and it ends up being a tough shot. When you predetermine what you’ll do when you get the ball, you’re not going to see the floor. I can show the guys today a couple times where they made the right play, but they already made up their mind they are going to shoot it, when they could’ve kicked out for a better shot. But with the way we were shooting threes at that time, maybe they felt they needed to go force the issue. So, the mental side is so much more important than some people recognize in the flow of the game and what’s going on. I do think mentally the other day—because we didn’t see the ball go in as early, we saw some shots rim in and out—it got to us, and we weren’t who we should’ve been.”

On options for plays when players are struggling to score:
“I don’t have to call a timeout. We’ve got calls. I felt like if I called a timeout—I wanted to get the tempo going, and I also felt like if I called timeout, we would tighten up even more. We actually played through it, and we got some stops and went down and got it back some. It’s all the feel you have with your team. We don’t need to call timeout to setup a play. If we get a rebound going the other way, I can tell the point guard to do this. Like I said the other night, just trying to get them relaxed and in a rhythm is why I didn’t call a timeout early. I just felt like we could go. We were tightening up some because of the shots we were missing and the fact that they we’re making some shots. I could just tell we were anxious, and I felt like a timeout would make us more anxious. We actually got some good looks and couldn’t convert them.”

On the struggles of Keon JohnsonSantiago Vescovi, and Jaden Springer:
“Well, you go back to the first game and two guys, Keon and Jaden, scored fifty. They’re not going to let that happen again, so they adjusted. They adjusted their game plan to them and did exactly what we told them was going to happen. Kentucky didn’t do one thing Saturday that we didn’t tell them they we’re going to do. You’re not going to come into a game after losing where two guys get fifty and say we’re going to let them do it again. We’re going to see if they’ll pass the ball. I thought they got frustrated a little bit. I thought Jaden over penetrated and got down too deep, and then he tried to shuffle off some passes and put some guys into some tough situations. Keon in isolation one time—when you’re isolated, you can’t get the ball taken from you. He had his back to his defender and they we’re digging down, and he let his defender knock the ball away from him. You can’t lose the ball in those isolation situations. Keon went through a stretch where he took three straight shots where he was trying too hard. As much as I can talk to you about us having a feel for our players, players have a feel for their teammates probably more so. They look in your eyes and say this guy’s really not ready, and some of those alpha dogs say, ‘I’m not afraid to go do this. I’m going to go do it.’ Sometimes, they pick the wrong time and the wrong shot, and it’s not out of being selfish; it’s just out of being competitive and still learning the game.”

On what strategy is best for a coach to use when his team is struggling:
“It depends on the individual. The one thing you don’t want to do is tighten them up. Through the process of being with them all the time, you like to think of what you can do to shake certain guys up. Some guys respond to hard coaching, some guys not so much, and some guys are there in between. Through what we do in practice and knowing our players, that’s what you’ve got to do to try to get that individual player going. When you see your team as a whole ding that, that’s where it gets difficult. You see guys pressing too much trying to do things as opposed to just playing in their role. When guys that you’re counting on aren’t delivering the way you need them to deliver, it’s going to put some pressure in other areas, and most of the time that ends up back on the guards, because they’ve got the ball in their hands. Everybody is different, and you’ve got to know how to push each guy’s button individually. Sometimes you push it right and sometimes you don’t.”

On the team’s performances at home:
“I don’t know this year if home games have been an advantage for anybody. I feel like everywhere we go is pretty much equal. We’ve had our moments at home. I didn’t think we were very good this past Saturday. We know what the Kentucky rivalry means to both universities. We came out—I don’t like to use the term flat, because when I watched the team play Saturday, I don’t think they weren’t ready to play. I think that they had all intentions of wanting to play well, but when they didn’t make shots the way they needed to, I could tell they were anxious. One time there was a rebound where we wanted to get out and run, and all three guys that could’ve gotten the rebound looked like they were heading the other way thinking the other guys was going to get it. That’s when you know your guys are anxious. At home, I think we’ve tried and done as good a job as anybody trying to create a nice situation for the players. I think you look around the country and teams that have had these great home-court advantages though the years, and we’re one of them. It’s not what it has been in the past.”

-UT Athletics