KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Rick Barnes could finally smile.
After seeing his young team squander multiple opportunities for potential statement wins earlier this season, the Tennessee basketball team shocked Kentucky on Tuesday in Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols (11-9, 4-4 SEC) outplayed the Wildcats (17-3, 7-1 SEC) for much of the game, weathering a late run thanks to some timely buckets by Robert Hubbs III and Grant Williams.
Tennessee, which had close calls to ranked foes Oregon, North Carolina and Florida, got the victory over a Top 25 team because it controlled the paint (plus-14 advantage), played with poise (just 9 turnovers to 18 assists) and didn’t allow Kentucky to get out into transition (just 9 fast break points allowed).
Here’s what Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes had to say about the upset win…
* “I’m really proud of our guys. I’d like to think the schedule we played this year finally showed up and helped us break through and get a win against an outstanding team, one of the top teams in the country. I thought our poise was great from the beginning.”
* “I’m really happy for these guys.” … Barnes on breakthrough after tough losses against ranked teams earlier this season.
* “I thought our fans were outstanding. This is something we can continue to build on.”
* Barnes praises the effort of youngsters like freshman Grant Williams. Says they’re learning how to win, and how tough it is to win.
* On Williams’ basket with .14 seconds left: “It was huge.” Barnes said he called a play during a TO designed for either Williams, Hubbs or Admiral Schofield to touch the ball. “I thought we got away from it (some late).”
* “They worked hard for this. I hope that they love this feeling. This is where we want to move the program. We have to get ready for an outstanding team in Kansas State on Saturday.”
* On Hubbs’ game-high 25 points: “It’s important to know that we have to play through him. … You have to have somebody make a tough shot. … Grant made a very difficult shot down in the lane. Robert can make tough shots.” Barnes also touts Hubbs’ improved leadership this season.
* On just 9 turnovers and 18 assists: “We did a good job taking care of the ball.” Barnes was just as proud of the way the guards helped rebound/box out.
* “We were good tonight. It was by far the best we’ve played all year. There’s no question. … I actually thought there were some other games we deserved to win, but if you don’t win them you don’t deserve it.”
* Kentucky coach John Calipari told Barnes he was “crazy” to play such a tough schedule this season.
* Barnes complemented fifth-year senior Lew Evans’ effort: noting his defensive toughness, surprising offensive playmaking ability.
* On dominating the points in the paint: “Our perimeter guys put in in there. … Our guards gave them the ball. We did a better job tonight establishing the inside and give them the ball earlier as opposed to later.”
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton