Your pick: Most meaningful Vol victory

Marvin Westwestwords

This is a multiple-choice question: Which of Tennessee’s 25 basketball victories so far in 2022-23 was most meaningful? Which was most fun?

The 99-80 exhibition romp (that didn’t count) over then No. 2 Gonzaga in Frisco, Texas?

Battle 4 Atlantis, 64-50 over Kansas when Jayhawks coach Bill Self said the Volunteers had the Final Four look?

A witty writer said T is for Tennessee, toughness, threes and a tournament title. The Vols were at least terrific on defense. They dominated as rebounders. That ended the defending national champions’ 17-game winning streak.

This was the most beautiful ugly game of the young season. Tennessee had 17 turnovers in the first half. The Vols were much better after the Rick Barnes pep talk. They lost the ball only seven times after intermission.

Surprisingly, they were more accurate from behind the three-point line (44.4) than from closer range (41.5).

Said Barnes, “I am so proud of the mental toughness. Rebounding is a mindset.”

The coach said he told the Vols that “You proved a lot in The Bahamas but we can get better – at least on offense.”

The Tennessee Volunteers during the second round game of the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament versus Duke.

Santiago Vescovi hit Kansas for 20.

Texas at Thompson Boling lost 82-71when we were still learning how good the Longhorns were. Was that big?

This was an important game, a rare match between top-10 teams. There was an emotional touch. Barnes coached at Texas for 17 seasons. The current coach, Rodney Terry, was on his staff for nine.

Summation: Texas wasn’t as good as Tennessee. The Vols won the rebound battle by 15. At their best, the difference was 22. The Vols hit 50 per cent in the first half and 62.5 after intermission.

As a matter of fact, Barnes is hard to please. The coach conceded that his 18-3 Volunteers played “pretty good” against Texas in the SEC/Big 12 challenge. He liked the atmosphere at the arena. He praised the enthusiasm of 21,678 paying customers. He noticed that Olivier Nkamhoua scored 27, high for his time at Tennessee.

“When we move the ball, when we don’t dribble, dribble, dribble, we’re a pretty good team.”

Down goes No. 1: Behind a dominant defensive effort and a second-half scoring run, the Volunteers knocked off No. 1 Alabama, 68-59, at Thompson-Boling Arena. That was Tennessee’s sixth all-time victory over an AP top-ranked team.

Remember the start of the second half, the scripted alley-oop from Zakai Zeigler to Olivier Nkamhoua just eight seconds in? Jonas Aidoo was fantastic – 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.

I wasted a bunch of time searching February and half of March for a Vol victory that I could call meaningful. What I found were injury reports, progress by young players, inconsistency, a poor performance at Florida, two losses to Kentucky, a surprising defeat at Vanderbilt and Ziggy’s damaged knee.

Tennessee’s four big guys were a big reason the Vols were able to defeat Arkansas. They combined to go 16-for-23 for 35 points against the Razorbacks.

Next time out, against Auburn, the four bigs scored a total of three points in the second half. Aidoo had two. Tobe Awaka hit a foul shot. Nkamhoua didn’t even attempt a shot and didn’t find a rebound.

Barnes was unhappy. The coach, not much of an alibi artist, now and then mentioned Zakai Zeigler.

“We’re still learning how to play without him.”

Tennessee’s famous defense faltered against Missouri in the SEC tournament.

The Vols built an 18-point lead and looked like a run-away winner over Louisiana in the NCAA opener. The Ragin’ Cajuns woke up in the second half and chopped the deficit to three. Believe me, that would have been a meaningful game if Tennessee had lost.

Forward Jonas Aidoo Facetimes the injured point guard Zakai Zeigler after the Vols win over Duke.

You tell me where the terrific triumph over Duke ranks. Nkamhoua had one of the best performances of his life. Barnes was a big chunk of the winning edge. Was that the game of the year? Beating up the Blue Devils sure was fun.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is

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