DALLAS — Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes wasn’t about to let up on his team Thursday afternoon.
The No. 3-seed Vols (26-8) were cruising to a 73-47 win over No. 14-seed Wright State (25-10), but Barnes was still breathing fire from the side court at American Airlines Center.
“Yeah, I think this time of year, you’re looking for perfection,” said Barnes, whose team advanced to Saturday’s Round of 32 where it will face the winner of Thursday’s South Regional game between Loyola-Chicago and Miami.
“I just felt we let down a little bit defensively,” said Barnes, who earlier Thursday was named one of four finalists for
the Naismith Coach of the Year Award. “
We were a little bit sloppy, just weren’t on edge the way I want us to be. I just think it’s a game of habits. I want them
to play every possession like it matters.”
Tennessee basketball accountability
Barnes has made it a habit to hold his team accountable after each game, making public his insistence the Vols focus on playing to a standard rather than the scoreboard.
The results this season have been impressive.
Barnes, in his third season and 100th game coaching Tennessee, has turned the Vols into national championship contenders.
Tennessee was SEC co-champion, SEC Tournament runners-up, an Barnes won SEC Coach of the Year, Grant Williams is SEC Player of the Year and Lamonte Turner is SEC 6th Man of the Year.
Tennessee basketball settles in
And Thursday, the Vols were an NCAA Tournament game winner for the first time in four years, and the first time in the careers of all the players on the Tennessee team.
“You could tell guys had jitters, forcing shots early,” said Lamonte Turner, who came off the bench to score a game-high 19 points. “It was a good thing our defense kept us in it.”
Hence, Barnes insistence the Vols maintain a strong defensive mindset regardless of score.
Tennessee led 34-23 at the half, and Barnes made sure his team knew he expected that lead to stay in double digits the rest of the afternoon.
“I told them, we’re not waiting one possession, you’d better be locked in,” said Barnes, who still pulls players at this stage of the season if they aren’t performing to expectation. “You’d better be locked in on the defensive end the first time we go down, and we were. So that gets us started.
“We’re better when we’re locked in on the defensive end.”
One thing for certain, Barnes is locked in.
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