By LARRY VAUGHT
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes doesn’t think he needs to mention to his players how difficult it is for teams to beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena going into Thursday night’s game.
“They watch enough through so much of ‘SportsCenter’ and everything else out there that they probably know that. I think the fact is that as a coach, you know what, it’s about time to get your guys to execute extremely well and hope that they can stay with it,” Barnes said.
“I don’t care if you’re at home or on the road, some point in time, you have the flows of the game, they go up and down. The teams that win consistently are the ones that are mentally tough enough and competitive enough to fight through those spots during the game. When you have teams making a little push at you, you stay together, you’re unified and you know what your game plan is.”
Kentucky didn’t do that at Tennessee when it built a 21-point lead late in the first half and then lost.
“You’re not going to go into Rupp and win, or anywhere, if you don’t have a really competitive spirit about you that you know it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be hard and everybody has to be on the same page,” Barnes said. “It can’t be like I said one, two, three guys. You have to have a group of guys that are all locked in together.”
Tennessee has struggled on the road. Barnes says it comes down to toughness, a theme John Calipari has also stressed often this year and saw his Cats display in Saturday’s rout of South Carolina on the road.
“If you’re going to be a good road team, if you’re going to be consistent on the road, you understand – and I’ve always said – it’s defense and being aggressive, being in that attack mode. I think it’s a little bit easier to – even in the Kentucky game, you think about it, when we were down 20, now you’re playing with house money,” Barnes said. “There’s no pressure, you’re down 20 and you just let it go.
“You wish players could understand that’s how they should play in a game anyway, as long as you’re doing it within a framework of what you’re trying to get done as a team. But we haven’t been nearly as aggressive, we haven’t (played) defense the way we need to on the road.”