Barnes: Eagerness to play will be key for Vols

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT)-- Coach Barnes met with the media Monday coming off the loss to Auburn in advance of the SEC Tournament . The coach was asked about the loss to the Tigers costing his team a chance to clinch the regular season title. He answered, "I think you have to learn it as a learning lesson in terms of the game of basketball itself. There is no question about that. Then you do have to put it behind you to get ready for conference tournament play. The fact is we didn't do the things we needed to do to win at the end. Not to take anything away from Auburn because they did a good job doing what they do. We just – too many turnovers, shot-clock violations, you name it, that led to easy baskets. That is the learning situation. You would like to think where we are and what we have been through, we wouldn't make those type of mistakes this time of year. But we did. Shot selection. I think we missed the front end of two one-and-ones. All those are big plays. You don't ever stop trying to learn from your last game, but you do have to put it behind you and move forward."

Coach Barnes was not pleased with number of three's taken by his squad in the Auburn game saying, "I don't know. I can't answer that because that wasn't our game plan at all. We talked about it. You go back and look at the losses we've had, we've done that. I can' tell you why because we keep talking about we should know who we are and what we are doing. I can't explain that. I really can't. We talked about what we needed to and we just settled. We shouldn't do that."

He added his team has moved on, " They were obviously disappointed after the game, which you would expect them to be. We will come in today like we do and we will take a really good hard look at this game and the things – it really goes back to the other three losses we had this year, they pretty much played out the same way, with too many threes and not getting to the foul line enough. There's a big discrepancy if you look at our four losses in terms of how little we got to three free-throw line and how many threes we took that were shots we shouldn't be taking without at least probing and trying to get fouled. You look at the discrepancy at what our opponents shot at the free-throw line in the losses and what we did, it's a big discrepancy. That's from settling for threes when you shouldn't."

On making a run in Nashville the coach said, "I think it's eagerness to play. You have to want to play, embrace. Know that you work hard all year. I don't even know who we'll end up playing obviously. Whether it's someone you've already played twice or getting ready to play for a second time, the familiarity is so much, you know each other so well. It's hard. You just hope your guys, again, like any other game, are locked in knowing that it is a tournament. If you want to continue to play in the tournament, you have to win. But it will always get back to doing what you've done when you're playing your best basketball. Plain and simple. You have to stay together, stay focused on the game plan, not letting the emotion of the game overwhelm you. You just have to stay locked in to playing good basketball."

Coach Barnes was asked about the situation at LSU involving Coach Will Wade, he responded, "I don't know enough about it. But I would like to think that whatever is going to happen, the right thing will be done. What I mean by that, the No. 1 thing in the spirit of competition is everybody plays on a level field. We know this isn't the first situation that has come up in college basketball that's gone on. If you've been in this business as long as I have, you're not naive about any of it. You're not. You like to think for the best. You're always thinking about the student-athlete. One thing I will tell you, not everybody does the things that are out there sometimes, that are being said. There are a lot of guys in this business that have done things the right way for a long time. I'm not saying they're perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I hate it for our game, I really do. I think this game has been great to so many people and what it does for so many. I just hate to see a cloud over college basketball. Hopefully going forward, and the only way it's going to get solved, if someone is found guilty they have to pay the price, plain and simple. I believe you're innocent until proven guilty, but if you're proven guilty there is a price to pay and you have to pay it."

Forward Yves Pons did not play at Auburn. The head coach explained,
"It's just a matter of where we are at this point in time. This time of year, you're trying to do everything you can. We have confidence in him, we do, but we just felt like what the situation was Saturday, and Bowden got it going pretty good, but he's helped us and he'll continue to help us. Same as Jalen. He didn't play for a while, but he came back. We're going to need all these guys, we know that from a year ago when we lost Kyle Alexander in the tournament. We're in a better position than we were a year ago if something does happen that can we handle it better."

The Vols will not play until the final game Friday night. Regarding the double-bye and lengthy wait to play the coach said, "The fact is you do have to balance it, but you have to try and keep an edge there. You want them enthusiastic more than anything. The fact that we travel over there helps a little bit with it because it will be a different venue we'll practice in. What we know with our team is we're not as sharp when we take a long time off in terms of not practicing. We'll come back in today, we'll scrub out that last game and do what we always do the day after a game — go on the court a little bit. Tomorrow we won't do anything and then we'll start preparing on Wednesday the way we would two days out with our schedule, so we'll try and keep it as close as we can knowing that we're going to have a chance to play three games. It is a time here that is a balance. You have to try and keep everybody sharp, but I think mentally more than physically. I don't think our team is going to get in any better shape, we just can't lose our conditioning, which we won't. We can keep that by what we normally do, but the mental side is what you're more focused on right now, that guys will stay locked in mentally. There's a lot going on this of year with a lot of outside chatter and noise and you just hope that they can eliminate all that and stay focused on the task at hand."

Coach Barnes was also asked about having the Tourney in the Volunteer State, he answered, if there is an advantage playing in Nashville, he said, "I was really impressed with our fans a year ago in St. Louis, and I love the fact that Nashville's where we have our tournament. It's obviously easier for most teams, most every team to get there as opposed, last year St. Louis did a phenomenal job with that tournament. I like and hope that we do get a great fan support. Talk about our fans, I love our fans, I don't think there's anywhere, any better. The fact is, it's close enough that we should expect and hope to get a great crowd."