By LARRY VAUGHT
NASHVILLE — Going into Saturday’s Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinal against Kentucky, Tennessee players felt there was a certain lack of respect for them from the Wildcats.
After the Vols beat Mississippi State Friday night, senior Admiral Schofield said his team wanted to be respected and that he could sense when certain teams didn’t respect the Vols.
“I think all of us can say confidently that we didn’t feel that way (against UK in Lexington). That’s why we came out and played the way we did in Knoxville (when the Vols beat UK) because we didn’t feel that we were respected in Kentucky. And credit to them, why would you respect us? They pushed us around, threw us around (in Lexington). We didn’t fight back (in Lexington),” Schofield said.
Tennessee junior Grant Williams, the SEC player of the year again, said he didn’t know before the game if UK respected the Vols but said he could tell the Cats were “kinda confident” and felt Tennessee was overrated going into the first game that UK easily won.
When Tennessee beat UK in Knoxville, the Cats didn’t have Reid Travis. Williams said Friday that UK might have thought the loss was a “fluke” since Travis didn’t play.
However, don’t doubt today that Schofield, Williams and the Vols earned UK’s respect by overcoming a 72-64 deficit in the final three minutes to beat UK 82-78 behind 20 points from Williams and 21 from Schofield.
The Tennessee junior, who talked in the preseason about how much he respected UK, said after the win that his Friday comments were taken out of context by some.
“I meant that in the aspect of their program is prestigious as far as just winning, having a great tradition in basketball. We don’t have that. That’s what we’re building towards,” Schofield said.
Can’t debate that. Tennessee last won a SEC Tournament in 1979. Kentucky had won four in a row going into this season.
“Why would they respect us? Those guys probably expected to come out and just beat us,” Schofield said Saturday. “Just like we expected to win, they expected to win.
“For us, I would say for us, our biggest phrase has been: Intensity over emotion, doing our job at a high level. Tonight we went out and competed.”
Then he added what I thought was a fair evaluation.
“Honestly, that was one of the funnest games I ever played in, back and forth, two teams competing at a high level. It was fun for me and I know it was fun for my teammates,” Schofield said.
It didn’t end up fun for UK because of the loss but the Cats had five players in double figures, dominated scoring in the paint and shot 54 percent from the field overall and 45.5 percent from 3-point range. Until the final few minutes, my guess is UK players were having a ton of fun, too.