Barnes promises to turn flogging into a positive

Marvin Westwestwords

White flag? You got to be kidding.

Rick Barnes, often stubborn to a fault, did not accept the Kentucky romp for what it was, an unbearable beating, a public flogging, devastation of what was thought to be a very strong Tennessee defense.

The score was 107-79 before a full house at Rupp Arena and a sizable TV audience. Tennessee had a season-high 20 turnovers. Barnes noticed that his inside starters, John Fulkerson and Olivier Nkamhoua, didn’t get a single rebound.

The really unbelievable part was Kentucky shooting 78.6 per cent in the first half. Most statistical reports focus on goals made. The Wildcats switched the emphasis to attempts missed – six of 28.

Beware of game totals. They may cause dizziness. Kentucky missed one of 21 free throws. TyTy Washington scored 28 and had three stray field-goal tries. Sahvir Wheeler scored 21. He missed twice.

The scouting report said the Wildcats are not big on three-pointers. They hit 11 of 18.

Believe it or not, Barnes said Tennessee will gain a lot from the game.

“We’ll make it a positive for us.”

The coach didn’t say how, other than something about changing the vibe. Whatever that means, it was no less believable than some of the things that happened for all to see.

“We’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to do a better job. There’s no question about that.”

Barnes said the Vols have to take what they learned and build on it.

“You can say it was a bad day but we allowed them to get going. Just made it way too easy for them.”

He thought the late first-half turnovers at mid-court and four quick points were a pivot point in the game.

The Vols never quit. Tennessee’s long-lost offense actually returned to life. Santiago Vescovi (20 points, seven for 10) and Kennedy Chandler (17 points, seven for 11) did their things well enough to win. Josiah-Jordan James scored 11.

Alas, Kentucky was much better. The Wildcats cashed in 32 points off turnovers. They scored 27 fast-break points. Tennessee got one free throw off a breakaway.

There was a well-defined turning point. The Wildcats had an 18-15 lead after eight minutes. Guards took over the game. They made 15 of their next 17 shots. The crowd went wild. The Vols looked crushed.

The coaching script calls for encouraging words at the rest stop, just hang in there, they’ll cool off.

They didn’t. The deficit was 31 with 12:11 left. The Wildcats outscored Tennessee 29-12 in that segment.

Interesting that Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, said to be a legitimate candidate for national player of the year honors, didn’t even get his 13th double-double. His NCAA-leading rebounding average actually dropped. OK, there weren’t all that many rebounds available.

Tennessee freshman Brandon Huntley-Hatfield didn’t play until the final 10 minutes but he outscored Tshiebwe, 11 to nine. The big HH hit four of five in close. Just guessing that he is in the process of earning more playing time.

Barnes was asked if 107-79 was just a bad afternoon or cause for greater concern. He said Kentucky had a great day.

He also said “you simply can’t give a team this good that many points off turnovers. They’re going to shoot 80 percent if you let them get those runouts.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari said before tipoff that he expected a battle royal, that he wouldn’t be surprised if the game came down to the final possession.

The final play was a factor. Quentin Diboundje, freshman from Montpellier, France, made a layup. It cut the losing margin from 30 to 28.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is

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