By LARRY VAUGHT
If you thought Bruce Pearl was full of praise for Kentucky after the Cats beat Auburn on Saturday, it paled in comparison to what Tennessee coach Rick Barnes had to say Monday about tonight’s game against Kentucky.
Barnes praised everything from UK’s guard play to defense to Nick Richards to foul shooting. He also had a great take on UK’s ability to win close games.
On Kentucky and his expectations for the game at Rupp Arena:
Rick Barnes: “I think Kentucky is the most underrated and underappreciated team in the country right now. I think them, and Kansas are the two best teams in the country. They (Kentucky) haven’t lost since their game at Auburn, and Kansas I don’t think has lost since their game at home against Baylor. Right now, those are the two best teams in College Basketball.
“They have two players, Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards who are two guys that are player of the year type candidates. there’s a lot of terrific coaches in our league and nobody has done a better job than John Calipari.
“So, with that said they’re playing terrific defense, they get out in transition, they are as lethal as any team you will play against. They’re going to get into their sets and execute. They’ve improved since we last played them. I think we have improved a lot as well. That game we started a bigger lineup, because Josiah didn’t play. So, we are going to have to continue to get better and our guys coming off a game against Florida should feel good, but we know that we are going on the road to play arguably the best team in College Basketball right now.”
On why he thinks Kentucky has been able to win a lot of close games:
Barnes: “The free throw shooting and great defense for certain. They do make free throws. They made a lot of free throws down the stretch when they came here to play us, and we got behind and had to foul. John’s teams always defend. They aren’t going to give you anything easy. I think they have definitely improved.
“We talked about it last time, how much Nick Richards has improved. You look at their backcourt play all around, they have improved as well. His teams always get better around this time of year. This is always when they play their best basketball.
“I wouldn’t say what I just said about them being one of the best teams in the country if they didn’t have the whole package. I think both them and Kansas are built for close games and the fact is, that they take care of the ball, make free throws and they are going to make you earn everything on the other end.”