Dan Fleser: Huntley-Hatfield Was 1 Positive From Thrashing At Kentucky

Monday, January 17, 2022 - by Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser

Rick Barnes picked an unusual time and place for a scavenger hunt.

Tennessee’s men’s basketball coach was combing through the wreckage of Saturday’s 107-79 loss at Kentucky in search of something, anything, to salvage as being positive. Judging by one comment, Barnes wasn’t even sure what he was looking for.

“We are going to find out about a lot of different things,” he said. “I think some way, somehow, we have to change the vibe with our team. What that may be, I will determine that more after I watch the tape.”

If Saturday’s performance was about the Vols’ vibe then Barnes was correct in anticipating a lot of different things being involved.

Without watching any tape, here’s a short list of some positives worth considering.

Brandon Huntley-Hatfield: The freshman’s scoring definitely was encouraging. He had 11 points in about 10 minutes of play against the Wildcats. More importantly, Huntley-Hatfield, a top 20 prospect in the Class of 2022, had a change of attitude in the days prior to Saturday.

“He spent two days on his own with coaches, saying you’ve got to help me do this,” Barnes said. “And I’m so proud of him. Because he’s had two days where he’s really, you can just tell, he’s totally different than any point up to here. I’m so proud he went in the game and did what he did.”

The Vols ought to consider a bigger role for the 6-foot-10 forward, especially if the production of UT’s other front-line players continues to lag.  

Vols offense: The story of the game, of course, was Kentucky’s offense, not Tennessee’s. The Wildcats shot 78.6 percent from the floor in the first half and stayed hot into the second half. That sort of accuracy goes beyond defensive breakdowns. As Barnes said, “It was almost like they had a magnet in the rim.”   

Kentucky coach John Calipari said he told Barnes afterward, “We don’t play much better than we just played.”

The Vols, conversely, hadn’t topped 50 percent for a game since Dec. 14 versus USC Upstate. So, shooting 53.4 percent from the floor against Kentucky (31 for 58) was significant. The Vols were almost as accurate from long range, shooting 11 for 23 (47.4 percent) on 3-pointers.

Tennessee’s recent shooting struggles have diminished the team’s mood. Therefore, any improvement ought to lift spirits.

Barnes: His vibe seemed different afterward, as if this outcome warranted a different sort of response, one that considered the big picture along with game particulars.

“I really believe in some way I’ve got to look at it this way, that we’re going to learn a lot,” he said. “It’s going to be positive. We can be positive from it, take some positives from it.”

Barnes probably had the last four games in mind, not just Saturday’s. He also might have been considering the team’s overall makeup. When asked Saturday which players do the most talking when things aren’t going well, Barnes mentioned two reserves: Uros Plavsic and Jahmai Mashack.

If that’s the case, then Barnes’ words carry more weight with this team and he may have to choose those words carefully.

“We’ve got to do a better job,” Barnes said. “I’ve got to do a better job. I mean, there’s no question about that.”




Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at ddanfleser3@gmail.com.


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