KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Rick Barnes usually makes it a point to dwell on negatives and areas that his team can improve on during his postgame news conference, even after the Vols’ victories.
But Saturday night, Barnes knew better than to even try to downplay Tennessee’s performance in the 94-61 victory over Ole Miss.
“Probably, obviously, the best half of the year we’ve played,” Barnes said after the No. 18-ranked Vols shot 71 percent in the second half and dished out 17 assists with just one turnover in the final 20 minutes.
“When the ball is going in the basket like that, it always makes it look good,” Barnes said. “We played as well as we played all year.”
Tennessee held a 35-25 lead over the Rebels (11-12, 4-6) at the half, and after Ole Miss opened on a 7-0 run, the Vols outscored them 59-29 the remainder of the game, winning every facet of the game save rebounding (38-35)
Ball-screen defense, assist-to-turnover ratio and front line play all impressed Barnes, who just a few nights before called his team “sloppy” and “immature” after a 23-point win over LSU.
Fact is, Tennessee (17-5, 7-3 SEC) is playing its best basketball of the season, winners of five straight and eight of the last nine.
The Vols are in sole possession of second place in the SEC standings with eight games remaining in the regular season before the trip to St. Louis for the SEC Tournament.
Barnes made it clear Tennessee is not looking beyond its next game Tuesday night at Rupp Arena against Kentucky. The Vols haven’t won in Lexington since 2006 — a string of 10 straight losses at Kentucky.
“We’re in the first game of the back half of the season and we have more work to do,” Barnes said. “I’d like to think we will keep getting better.”
Vols’ second-half stat line