If you are a follower of college basketball, Saturday’s Big 12/SEC Challenge game between No. 18 Tennessee and Texas in Austin is a dustup you’ve had circled since it was announced in the summer.
The game will mark the first time Tennessee coach Rick Barnes has coached against the Longhorns since he was fired by Texas after the 2014-15 season. He returns to the arena in which he ruled the hardwood for 17 seasons, producing a long line of players who would play in the NBA and one Final Four appearance.
“I have a lot of friends in Austin and nothing but respect for Texas and the people there,” Barnes said. “But I’m seven years removed — I’m a Tennessee Volunteer.”
Saturday’s contest is more than just a homecoming for Barnes — it’s an important game for both teams and not much of a respite from either’s gauntlet of battles in the Southeastern Conference and Big 12 Conference, respectively.
The Volunteers (14-5) head to Austin on a three-game winning streak, with the most recent a 78-71 comeback victory at home over Florida on Wednesday.
Santiago Vescovi led Tennessee with a career-high-tying 23 points while Kennedy Chandler scored 17 and Zakai Zeigler hit for 11 in the win. The Volunteers earned advantages in rebounding (34-24) and assists 22-15, while doing their best work after trailing by eight points at the break.
Tennessee went more than five minutes of the first half without taking a shot because of turnovers.
“To come back and win a game when you didn’t even take a shot for five minutes was pretty impressive,” Barnes said after Wednesday’s victory. “We are too far into the basketball season to make the kind of turnovers and mistakes that got us in the hole in the first half.”
The Longhorns (15-5) return home after their most dominating performance of the season, a 73-50 win on the road against TCU.
Texas, which fell out of the AP top 25 in the latest poll for the first time this season, won for the second straight game and answered some of its critics, routing a Horned Frogs team that has been very good in front of a record crowd in Fort Worth.
Timmy Allen scored 16 points to lead the Longhorns in the win, with Courtney Ramey adding 14 points, Andrew Jones hitting for 12 and Marcus Carr scoring 11. The Longhorns improved to 15-0 this season when holding its opponents below 60 points.
“We were dialed in,” Texas coach Chris Beard said after the win. “TCU’s really good. I think it was more about what we were doing tonight than what they weren’t doing.”
The Longhorns enter Saturday’s contest leading the nation in scoring defense at 54.7 points per game, so it’s easy to expect that scoring will be at a premium and that there will be plenty of physicality between the two teams.
“The past couple of games our mindset is to win and win by any means,” Ramey said Tuesday. “This game was just us playing for each other. And it was just fun to play for your teammates and then playing through mistakes and having your teammates’ back.”
Texas and Tennessee have played six times in their history, with each winning thrice. The most recent meeting was in November 2007, with the Longhorns, under Barnes, beating Tennessee 97-78 in Newark, N.J.
–Field Level Media