Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes made it clear he has a ton of respect for No. 8 ranked and undefeated Gonzaga, to the point he suggested the Zags might even stay undefeated through the regular season.
But Barnes said that doesn’t excuse Tennessee’s poor start in Bridgestone Arena on Sunday in a game billed as the “Battle on Broadway.”
Gonzaga (11-0) scored the 86-76 victory over the Vols (6-5) before an announced crowd of 13,784 and a nationally televised audience via ESPN2.
The Zags jumped to a 27-6 lead, denying Tennessee any notion of crowd momentum while infuriating the Vols’ head coach.
“I thought we absolutely played as poorly as we have all year,” Barnes said. “I didn’t like our demeanor as a team.”
Barnes said there was confusion at times, and he felt his team lacked the necessary poise to compete with a national contender like Gonzaga — just one week after taking top 10 North Carolina to the final seconds in Chapel Hill.
“Is it stage fright? What is it? Why aren’t they thinking and doing the things that we need to be doing?” Barnes said in his postgame interview. “We were really awful at the start of the game.”
The Vols played hard and rallied, however, pulling to within 75-71 with 2:26 when Robert Hubbs lll scored two of his 10 points on a jumper.
The Zags put the game away by sinking 9 of 10 free-throw attempts over the final 70 seconds.
Tennessee’s early-season schedule reads like a “Who’s Who” of some of collegiate basketball’s best — losses to Wisconsin, Oregon, North Carolina and now Gonzaga.
Barnes takes no comfort in having played all of those teams relatively close.
“It’s one thing being talked about as a scrappy team that fights all the time, at some point we have to want to be more than that,” Barnes said. “We have to play 40 minutes, and we haven’t done that at any point in time this year.”
Up Next For Vols
Tennessee travels to Johnson City for a men’s basketball game for the first time since 1963.
The Vols will play East Tennessee State, coached by former Tennessee assistant Steve Forbes, before a sellout crowd at Freedom Hall.