Barnes speaks to media in season-ending press conference

Photo by Brad Blackwelder.

Tennessee head basketball coach Rick Barnes held his first press conference in Knoxville since the Vols 63-62 upset loss to 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago in the NCAA Tournament last Saturday.

After notching Tennessee basketball’s first regular season SEC Championship in a decade and leading the Volunteers to their best record (26-9, 11-5 SEC) since 2010, Barnes is still searching for areas of improvement.

“The word I used a lot was consistency this year… I think individual guys need to be more consistent,” said Barnes. “You really want to get back to fundamentals, conditioning I think is a big part of that.”

Barnes noted that one thing was different from this year’s NCAA Tournament than his previous 21 times in the Big Dance. He said that sophomore center Kyle Alexander’s injury was the first time he has had a player injured in the tournament. However, Barnes didn’t shy away from complementing the Ramblers and their improbable Final Four run.

“I think they (Loyola-Chicago) have as good of a chance as anybody to win the National Championship,” said Barnes. “When you watch them play they’re a highly efficient offensive team and a very good defensive team.”

Things weren’t so happy-go-lucky for No. 3 seed Tennessee after the Ramblers victory last Saturday according to Barnes, but his team was anxious to get back to work.

“They were devastated, there’s not much you can say” said Barnes. “Starting today they’re all back in the gym. They’re wanting to get back.”

Despite returning every player on the roster except for one player, Barnes stated that the lone senior on the team, James Daniel III, will be missed.

“He had an impact and we’ll miss what he gave us,” Barnes said. “I thought it was really good the pressure that he put on Jordan Bone and Lamonte Turner.”

The hardware didn’t stop at SEC Coach of the Year for Barnes, as he will be a recipient of the 2018 Coach Wooden “Keys to Life” Award during the Final Four weekend. The award is given to basketball staff that models high moral character, integrity and faith.

“Well first of all I can tell you there are a lot of guys more deserving of the award than me,” said Barnes. “It’s an honor… He (Wooden) impacted this sport long after he quit coaching.”

Barnes ended his press conference with news that will elate much of the Vols faithful. Tennessee will renew its in-state rival with Memphis next season and newly hired Tigers head coach Penny Hardaway confirmed the news on Monday. The two teams will play one game each in Memphis and Knoxville and finish up with a matchup in the Music City.

“Don’t hold me to this, but I think the way the contract sets up, I think we go there first, they come here,” said Barnes. “We’d like to make it a big day of basketball in Nashville… Some kind of jamboree or extravaganza.”

The Volunteers and Memphis have met 25 times in the past, as Tennessee leads the series 14-11. The last game of the rivalry ended in an 85-80 win for the Vols in 2013.

Featured image courtesy of Brad Blackwelder

Oregon State tops Lady Vols in NCAA Tournament

Sixth-seeded Oregon State stunned the No. 3 Lady Volunteers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday afternoon. Tennessee fell 66-59 to the Beavers, its first home loss in tournament history, in front of 4,338 Vols fans. Tennessee exited in the second round for the second consecutive season, a program first.

“This was a huge win for our program. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for us. It’s been a grind,” Oregon State Head Coach Scott Rueck said. “Today, this was really an incredible performance.”

The Lady Vols sparked an 11-2 run at the game start after a 3-pointer from senior forward Jaime Nared. Tennessee’s stout defense forced the Beavers to record just nine points in the first quarter. The Volunteers led 19-9 after 10 minutes of play, but the script flipped at the start of the second quarter.

Oregon State surged after a pair of free throws from guard Kat Tudor. The points sparked a 13-2 run for the Beavers to the give them the lead. Neither team scored for the next three minutes, until freshman guard Rennia Davis drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Tennessee a 26-24 lead at half.

The Volunteers shot just 25 percent from the floor in the second quarter. The Beavers knocked home nearly 60 percent of their shots from the field. Still, Tennessee had a prime chance to grind out the next two quarters for a win and defend its 57-0 record at home in NCAA Tournament games.

However, Oregon State transitioned to a 2-3 zone, which proved to be disastrous for the Volunteers in the second half.

“I think it just made us stagnate,” Vols senior center Mercedes Russell said. “”We were standing around on the perimeter a lot, not really passing and cutting and moving the defense, which we should have.

The Beavers went on an 11-2 run to end the third quarter and put Oregon State up 44-39 going into the fourth quarter. After Oregon State took its biggest lead of the game with more than three minutes remaining, Tennessee failed to claw back.

Four players logged double-digit points for the Beavers, as guards Mikayla Pivek and Katie McWilliams meshed for 30 points on the night. Seniors Russell and Nared led the Lady Vols in their last game in orange-and-white with a combined 30 points and 18 rebounds in the loss.

“My teammates, my coaches, everybody has just left an impact on my life. I wouldn’t change a thing. I think I’ve learned a lot,” Nared said. “It was a blessing to play here with the tradition and this team.”

Russell passed Candace Parker with her 46th career double-double on Sunday in her last game at Tennessee.

“I have a degree from the University of Tennessee, and I am a Lady Vol forever. Those are two things that you can never take away from me,” Russell said.

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics 

Edited by Lexie Little

Vols fall to No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago in second round

Head Coach Rick Barnes and the No. 3 seed Volunteers’ season ended with a 63-62 loss to 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago Saturday night. Tennessee failed to advance to the Sweet 16 despite an and-one from forward Grant Williams, which put the Vols up one point with 20 seconds remaining. Barnes is now 22-23 in NCAA Tournament games in his over 40 years as a head coach.

Ramblers guard Clayton Custer got a friendly roll on a tough jump shot with four seconds left to give Loyola-Chicago a 63-62 lead with four second remaining. Tennessee sophomore guard Jordan Bone put up on off-balance jumper at the buzzer but couldn’t get it to go.

“It’s always a tough way to lose a basketball game with the buzzer beaters,” Barnes said. “I’m proud of our guys, they kept fighting today and finding a way to stay in it.”

The early game looked good for the orange-and-white, as they shot off to a 15-6 run after nearly five minutes of play in the first half. Forward Admiral Schofield had 11 of the Vols 15 points in the run. However, the Ramblers responded with a 23-10 run of their own and went up 29-25 at the halfway point.

“They started making shots,” Schofield said.

Grant Williams added, “We were playing hard, but we really weren’t playing smart.”

At the half, the Volunteers stood at just 39 percent shooting from the field and made just 4-of-13 shots from beyond-the-arc. Meanwhile, Loyola-Chicago filled the bucket with nearly 50 percent shooting after 20 minutes of play. Tennessee made just four of its last 18 shots to end the first half.

The Volunteers fell behind 10 points with four minutes remaining in the contest but cut the deficit down to just two points after a 3-pointer from guard Lamonte Turner. Tennessee finished the monumental comeback with a clutch and-one from Williams to put the Vols up one point.

However, Custer and the Ramblers continued their Cinderella story with a game-winning jumper with 3.6 second remaining in the game. Custer and senior forward Aundre Jackson led Loyola-Chicago with a combined 26 points and six rebounds in the win. The Volunteers had five players with over 10 points in the loss, including a team-high 14 points from Schofield.

“We worked really hard and we brought some excitement around the basketball program again,” Schofield said. “It doesn’t define who we are… We still have some guys that are returning.”

Overall, the Ramblers hit 50 percent of their shots and outrebounded Tennessee by a 27-24 margin on Saturday. The Missouri Valley champions will advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1985, which is the last time they made the NCAA Tournament.

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Edited by Lexie Little

 

Lady Vols secure No. 3 seed in NCAA Tournament

The No. 12 ranked Tennessee Lady Vols (24-7) received the No. 3 seed Monday night in the Lexington region for the 2018 Women’s NCAA Tournament. They will host the Liberty Flames (24-9) in Knoxville on March 16 at Thompson-Boling Arena for the first round.

Led by Head Coach Holly Warlick, the Lady Vols look to start their tournament run on a high note. Tennessee finished its regular season ranked just outside the top 10 and ended the season at fifth in SEC standings. Although first round games in the tournament usually come as a cake walk for top seeded teams, Liberty will likely give the Lady Vols a tough test.

“What I saw from their tournament is that they are gritty, they are tough, and they rebound,” Warlick said. “They’ve got kids that score, so it will be a tough challenge for us.”

Finishing their season 24-9, the Lady Flames prove they are capable of winning. Clinching their 17th Big South title this season, the ladies from Lynchburg come to Knoxville riding an eight-game winning streak. They look to extend that streak in the NCAA Tournament.

Led by seniors Mercedes Russell and Jaime Nared, Tennessee possesses a large advantage by starting the tournament at home. However, the game will not be a guaranteed victory. The Volunteers looked like a top-notch team during portions of the regular season, while looking lost at other points in the schedule.

The last appearance for the Lady Vols came in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. They fell to eventual conference champions South Carolina by a score of 73-62. Tennessee looks to avenge its loss in their game on Friday. The Lady Vols will need contributions from various players to do so.

Feeding the ball inside to Russell proves to be effective, and if the Vols want to go far in the tournament, they must get their star senior the ball as often as possible. With Russell standing at 6-foot-6 and Liberty’s starting forwards both only standing at 6-foot-1, Russell should have a stout advantage on the boards and easy buckets inside the paint.

If there is one concern for the Lady Vols heading into the NCAA Tournament, it will be whether or not Nared will be able to play valuable minutes. Nared went down with an injury against Auburn in the SEC Tournament.

In the game against South Carolina, Nared played a full 40-minute game when she posted a double-double, but her injury could inhibit her against Liberty. The senior from Oregon will search to end her illustrious career at Tennessee with a bang.

“We had kind of a dry reaction, but I think that’s because we’re focused. We’re excited with playing home,” Nared said. “The team we’re playing, we don’t know much about them, but we’re excited to learn about them and to play hard and give it all.”

Friday’s game will be broadcasted on ESPN 2 and tip-off is set for 2:30 p.m. ET.

Edited by Seth Raborn/Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

No. 4 Lady Vols softball sweeps first SEC series

Fourth-ranked Tennessee (24-1) completed its first SEC sweep of the season Sunday against Missouri (16-9) at Sherri Lee Parker Stadium in Knoxville. The Lady Vols beat the Tigers by a combined series score of 25-7 and tallied their 16th straight win. Tennessee notched 35 hits in the sweep and dodged rain delays despite rough weather.

Things started slow for the Lady Vols in their first SEC game Friday. They recorded just three runs after six innings of play. However, former SEC Player of the Year Meghan Gregg broke through with a grand slam in the sixth inning to power Tennessee to a 7-4 win.

“The feeling of the ball coming off the bat was amazing,” Gregg said about the two-out grand slam. “You just know when it comes off the bat, you barely can even feel it.”

Sophomore pitcher Caylan Arnold contributed as well. She struck out eight batters in six innings pitched to get the win. Both Gregg and junior infielder Aubrey Leach batted 2-for-3 at the plate in the win.

The Lady Volunteers looked better Saturday. They shutout Missouri 7-0. Ace pitcher Matty Moss led Tennessee with seven strikeouts and no earned runs in four innings pitched. Freshman phenom Gabby Sprang finished out the contest with four strikeouts in three innings.

All Lady Vols scoring came in innings three through five, six combined runs coming in the third and fourth inning. Leach and senior outfielder CJ McClain both went a perfect 2-of-2 from the batter’s box on the day. Infielder Chelsea Seggern led Tennessee with two RBI.

Tennessee progressively improved over the weekend, finishing the weekend sweep by a score of 11-3 against the Tigers in just six innings. The Vols tallied 15 hits and got four RBI from both senior Scarlet McSwain and freshman Amanda Ayala.

“I think she is going to be an All-American. I don’t think there is a question,” Tennessee co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said about Ayala. “It is going to take a while, but I think she has got all the tools. She can run, throw, hit and think.”

Tennessee played a huge third inning. They registered seven of their 11 runs in that inning. Missouri responded with a pair of runs the next inning, but the Lady Vols put more pressure on by scoring four runs to complete the run rule.

“We worked with those kids early this morning. We just got up and said we are going to hit a little bit and change your stance a little bit and it worked out,” Weekly said. “If we can hit through the lineup then this team will be pretty awesome.”

The Weeklys and Tennessee hit the field again in Honolulu at the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine Classic Wednesday.

Edited by Ben McKee/Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee drops SEC Championship game to Kentucky

No. 13-ranked and second-seeded Tennessee fell to No. 4 seed Kentucky in their first SEC Championship appearance since 2009 by a score of 77–72. Forwards Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield combined for 37 points and 19 rebounds in the loss at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Head coach John Calipari and the Wildcats notched their fourth straight conference on Sunday.

It was all Kentucky to start the game, as the Wildcats couldn’t miss and went on a 13–5 run to start the first half. Tennessee started out shooting just 4-of-20 from the field, while Kentucky began with 50 percent shooting from the field. Freshman phenoms Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox combined for 24 points to start the game.

“We started the game and dug ourselves a hole,” said Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes. “We weren’t playing the way we were capable of. Offensively, we weren’t making shots.”

However, Schofield put the Volunteers on his back with a whopping 17 first half points. The Vols rode a 15–3 run to end the first half to cut the game down to just a five-point deficit at halftime.

The rest of the team combined for just 14 points, as Tennessee went into the half trailing just 36–31 after 20 minutes of play. The Volunteers came back despite shooting just 28 percent from the field and making just 4-of-13 shots from beyond-the-arc.

Barnes and Tennessee came out of the half with a new lease on life, as Tennessee finally took over the lead at the 16:39 mark with a 3-pointer from Schofield. The Wildcats responded with a 14–2 run to set the Vols back once again by a score of 52–43 with over 12 minutes to play.

The Volunteers responded clutch 3-pointer from SEC Co-Sixth Man of the Year Lamonte Turner and a jumper from Williams cut Kentucky’s lead down to just five points once again. A 14–3 run from Tennessee once again gave them a lead, after Turner drilled consecutive 3-pointers to give the Vols a 57–55 lead.

A huge blow was dealt to the orange-and-white after Wenyen Gabriel of the Wildcats landed on Schofield’s head, causing him to go back to the locker room. Still, The Volunteers kept it knotted up at 59–59 with six minutes remaining in the game despite Schofield’s absence. Shortly after, both teams entered the bonus with over five minutes left in the second half.

Schofield re-entered the game at the 4:20 mark, as Tennessee faced a 66–62 deficit with less than four minutes left in the game. Kentucky was dealt a huge blow themselves with 2:45 remaining, as the sharpshooting Gabriel fouled out.

Guard Jordan Bone banked in a ridiculous shot from beyond-the-arc to cut the Wildcats lead to just 68–67 with just over a minute remaining in the game. Gilgeous-Alexander responded with a clutch jumper to put Kentucky up three points and forcing the Vols to send the Wildcats to the free throw line.

Schofield tipped in a shot to bring Tennessee within three points once again, but it wasn’t enough as the Vols lost for the first time in six games.

“It’s hard to flush that, but we’ve got something big to look forward to,” said Schofield. “We wanted to go out and win this for our University, coaching staff, families and fans.”

The Volunteers will get back in action on Thursday as a №3 seed in the South Region in the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee will take on №14 seed Wright State.

Edited by Ben McKee 

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics