Rick Barnes told Julian Phillips that the Vols needed him to score.
The 6-8 freshman got 25 and worked hard at rebounding.
Barnes said Santiago Vescovi was the player of the game from Tennessee’s perspective.
Phillips didn’t say peep but he must have thought “How about me?”
The Volunteers needed both plus Zakai Zeigler, Olivier Nkauhoua, Jahmai Mashack and several others for a 73-66 overtime victory over Southern Cal in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Barnes’ team will play third-ranked Kansas for the championship.
The semifinals were not a work of art. Southern Cal played a lot of zone. Tennessee hit three of 18 three-point shots. Elsewhere, marksmanship took much of the afternoon off. From all over the floor, Vescovi was three for 13. Jonas Aidoo was two of 10. Zeigler hit one of six. Tyreke Key made two and missed five.
“Really a hard-fought game,” Barnes said.
He expected the zone.
“We were hoping we would have a game where we could shoot it, but give them credit. They defended the 3-point line.”
Give Tennessee credit. Effort was the winning edge.
Barnes said Vescovi was outstanding on defense, that he set the tone. On second thought, the coach said Zeigler was outstanding, too, that the guards kept the Vols in the fight.
Evidence: Southern Cal got stuck on 45 points and stayed there six minutes.
Second entry of evidence: The Trojans, late in regulation and overtime, scored four points in the final 8:21.
The Vols eliminated most of the drama from the second half of overtime. Phillips hit two free throws. Ziggy hit four, with a steal in between. Vescovi had the big hit, a clutch three.
Phillips made a major impact. Barnes kept thinking of something else the rookie did to help win the game. Julian took big steps against Butler on Wednesday and bigger steps against Southern Cal.
“He is an impact player from the fact that he can impact the game in so many ways. He’s got a fire in that belly.”
Barnes said some might overlook that.
“He’s pretty calm looking but he’s a high-level competitor and he hasn’t flinched.”
Aidoo led the Vols with nine rebounds … he played 10 more minutes than Uros Plavic … Jahmai Mashack continues to contribute … he picked his shots carefully and hit three of four … Josiah-Jordan James went through warmups but again did not play because of the knee ache.
Kansas is 6-0. The Jayhawks defeated Duke in Indianapolis, 69-64. Other victories were over Omaha, 89-64; North Dakota State 82-59; and Southern Utah, 82-76.
In this tournament, Kansas downed North Carolina State, 80-74, and Wisconsin, 69-68, in overtime.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org.