A school-record 18-game winning streak and a No. 1 national ranking for four consecutive weeks speak loudly on behalf of the Tennessee basketball team and how good the Vols have been this season.
UT coach Rick Barnes believes that his team can be better. Therefore, he gives voice to the importance of daily improvement. He referenced the priority throughout his press conference on Monday, which served as a bridge from Saturday’s 73-61 victory over Florida to the week ahead, which begins Wednesday with a home game against South Carolina.
To be more specific, the week began with Monday afternoon’s practice.
“I sound like a broken record,” Barnes said, “but it’s about the next game, today’s practice.
“It’s fleeting. If you start trying to bask in what you’ve done, you lose sight of what you have to do.”
The same players who listen to their coach’s advice, though, also could be hearing or reading the adoration of other coaches. A column on page 5 of Tennessee’s media game notes chronicles the praise bestowed upon the Vols this season.
After UT’s 78-67 victory at Florida on Jan. 12, Gators coach Mike White said that watching Tennessee “puts it all in perspective to what a really, really good team looks like and what you hope to be.”
White was equally complimentary after Saturday’s rematch, calling the Vols, “the best team in the country.”
“I think versatility, discipline, toughness and strength are words I would use to describe them on both sides of the ball,” he said.
After the same game, Barnes offered a slightly different take.
“For the most part, our guys have played hard,” he said. “But I think there’s another level. That level is competing.”
Barnes’ perspective reflected UT’s preparation for Florida, which emphasized the competition component of practice drills.
Vols forward Admiral Schofield sounded more Barnes-like after Saturday’s victory.
“Competing is why we got into the game of basketball,” Schofield said. “That’s what we love about basketball. When you’re winning so much and winning consecutively like this, you can get lost.
“So for us it’s just really locking in and taking it day by day and really enjoying the process. That’s one of the things too that we talked about is you have to get back to enjoying the winning. I mean we haven’t been in this position. So it’s just been feeling like a business to us.”
Enjoy, but don’t bask. Barnes said that former UCLA coach Steve Alford, who attended Saturday’s game, spoke to the team and helped him with making that point.
Overall, Barnes appreciates the balancing act involved with handling such success.
“It’s a hard thing in the middle of a competitive year,” he said. “How do you enjoy the moment, knowing that you have to let it go quickly?”
INJURY UPDATE: Barnes said that he expects sophomore guard Yves Pons to return Wednesday after missing Saturday’s game because of a facial fracture that required surgery.
Barnes said Pons will wear a mask to protect his face.
Pons suffered the injury when colliding with a teammate during practice last Thursday.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He can be reached at email@example.com