According to Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes, stopping Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel was the key to the game last night. Those two contributed absolutely nothing from the four-spot in the first game in Knoxville, so Barnes tried to force them into nonexistence again, in hopes of finding a similar result in the end.
That plan did not work.
Because Willis balled.
Read the full quote from Barnes’ postgame press conference:
“We felt it was really important in our gameplan not to let Willis or Gabriel get going and they did what we thought early. They came out, I think Gabriel shot it two of the first three possessions and then Willis came in and got it going and gave us some separation and our gameplan was not to let that happen. We were willing to let the other players pretty much do what they had done. Adebayo, Fox, Monk do what they do. We just didn’t want that fourth guy to really step in there. I think John (Calipari) with his team has worked hard to get that guy going. They got it going tonight. I think from your vantage they got done what they wanted to get done with him.”
“Our key was to not let their fourth shoot the ball and make good shots. I don’t think you’re going to stop Monk from getting his on a night in and night out basis because he’s going to shoot the ball and he’s going to make some tough shots. One thing we did, we go back to our game at Knoxville, he and Gabriel were nonfactors and we talked about it all week. That’s what we can’t allow happen and we let it happen. Give them credit. I think John always has a great pulse on his team and you can tell that he’s tried to get those going because it does make them a different team because now you’ve got stretch these guys a little bit but they made shots and got going. I thought we gave them some room to breathe. We had some ridiculous turnovers and they converted those. We were just awful. We didn’t deserve a win tonight because we didn’t do the things we talked about from a mental standpoint and a physical standpoint.”
As we’ve said all year, if the Cats get anything from Willis or Gabriel at the four, they are going to be tough to beat.