Rick Barnes may finally have pulled his chariot from the muck and realigned it on the straight and narrow.
We’ll see in the days and weeks to come. Tennessee’s Wednesday foe is Florida. The Gators will be playing their third game in five days. Maybe their legs will be tired. Maybe they’ll get scouting reports scrambled.
Tennessee looked seriously committed and pretty good in the 64-50 victory over LSU. The Vols certainly struck a blow for NCAA civility. A lot of us wonder how Will Wade has kept his job as coach of the Tigers and how the Tigers have delayed probation. The governing body has been oh, so slow to follow up on FBI wiretaps.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey hasn’t said peep or maybe even noticed. He’s been busy negotiating TV contracts, chairing committees and reorganizing the NCAA.
Wade and his warriors came into Big Orange Country as cocky as they were in Baton Rouge. They had lifted all their weights and done all their exercises and were going to be very physical. That is code for bullying the Vols again.
In fact, the Tigers got punched in the mouth. They actually lost the rebound battle. It was predictable that they would have more turnovers.
You can choose the words that best describe your view of the Volunteers’ performance.
- Absolute refusal to be intimidated.
- Streaky but encouraging on offense.
- Payback determination, high intensity.
- Improvement in post play.
- When Santiago Vescovi hits long shots …
- Defense was locked in.
- Tigers’ injured point guard was a significant loss.
Wade and his combative Bayou Bengals might have been just what the Vols needed as a wake-up call. Tennessee has some players who are un-intimidate-able – if that is a word.
Uros Plavsic is very big and strong. He is still learning the finer points of basketball but he is a man you want on your side in a war zone. He would volunteer to arm-wrestle Goliath.
Vescovi has won despite knockdowns, tripping, pushing and shoving – and salty trash talk in several languages.
Zakai Zeigler grew up on the playgrounds of New York City. As has been said by others, he thinks he is 10 feet tall and bullet-proof.
In addition to distractions and ruffled feelings, there was a game. It was not a thing of great beauty. Olivier Nkamhoua went scoreless and attempted but one shot. Kennedy Chandler shot poorly but had six assists. Zeigler missed three of four but the one he hit was big. He upset some Tigers with in-your-face defense.
Considering the circumstances, Plavsic may have had his best game. John Fulkerson went 3-for-3 around the goal. He now has more than a thousand career points. Big deal? Fifty-three Vols have reached this plateau.
Vescovi hit five three-pointers. Brandon Huntley-Hatfield had six rebounds. Josiah-Jordan James recovered from the injury at Vanderbilt, scored nine, seized five rebounds and defended well.
The Vols started the game with a 14-0 lead. LSU went without a field goal for 6:22. Tennessee cooled considerably; the Tigers closed to within one but the Vols hit twice in the final 45 seconds for a 29-24 halftime lead.
Tennessee opened the second half with an 8-0 run. LSU went scoreless for 4:42.
The box score doesn’t say much about controversies, contentious flurries, stare downs and faceoffs. There were no fights.
Bad feelings were exposed before tipoff. An LSU manager apparently threw a basketball or basketballs into the stands during warmups. Several Vols and a coach took issue.
Plavsic, chasing a rebound, crashed into Tari Eason. Words were exchanged. Plavsic gave Eason an extra push. Upon review, Plavsic was penalized. The Tigers were later whistled for a flagrant foul and an intentional foul. Both cost free throws and possessions.
Rival assistant coaches were assessed technical fouls on the way to intermission. The teams, slow leaving the court, were side by side, yapping, before that outburst. Wade was having an animated discussion with the officials. The two technicals stopped most of the bickering.
Plavsic said he didn’t worry about any of that stuff.
“They do what they do. They wanted to win the fight. We wanted to win the basketball game. I think we won both actually.
“We knew they were going to bring the fight but this is our house. We have to protect it. That’s all that we had in our mind. Going into this game, that was our mindset. I think we did a really good job at that.”
Tennessee is 13-5 and 4-3 in the SEC. The worst of the front-loaded schedule is past. The rematch with Kentucky is in mid-February. The Vols and Auburn have but one game, at UT.
If Barnes has truly rescued the perishing, good things are still possible. League foes now know, if they want to fight, the Vols won’t flee.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org