Tennessee was riding the Nation’s longest active win streak, at 19, heading into Lexington on Saturday. Rick Barnes wasn’t satisfied with that team. In their four week stretch as the AP’s top ranked team, Barnes repeatedly denounced his teams rebounding efforts, their declined defense from the season before and the way they practiced. Seemingly just coach speak, as the Vols were still winning – most games by double digits. The 17 point loss to Kentucky on the national stage, was a reminder it wasn’t just coach speak.
“I felt like it had been building,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “We kept saying it’s going to bite us if you guys don’t understand the importance. And we did, we got bitten really really hard. Yesterday we came in and we watched it. We said is this who we are? If it is, we’re not going to win many more games.”
Tennessee was outperformed in every way on Saturday. They also underperformed, posting season lows in assists (11), blocks (1) and rebounds (26), along with their second worst shooting outing of the year, 40.7% from the field. A performance, according to Barnes, could be described in one word: selfish.
“Everybody thinking I can do this by myself,” Barnes said. “They found out and all admitted it, which is a good thing. One of the first ways to get better is to be able to admit you have a problem. Now are you mature enough to go fix it. They’ve all said the right things, now we will see if they are mature enough to do it.”
If there’s any solace for Vol faithful – Tennessee won five of six to close out the season a year ago, after being dominated by the Crimson Tide 78-50.
“I don’t think there’s any question that our guys were drifting without the real focus that we needed,” Barnes said. “If it takes something like that to wake you up, so be it. You hate for it to happen, but it happens. It happens in real life. If something comes along unexpected, it happens. It makes you really assess some things. Yesterday in the film, they understood. I hope we can get going, get back to being the team that I know we can be.”
Tennessee’s first chance to do that, Tuesday Night as the Vols play host to Vanderbilt at 7 pm.