Coach Rick Barnes emphasizing Vols' 'mindset' ahead of Kentucky rematch

Tennessee's Kyle Alexander (11) and Tennessee's Robert Hubbs III (3) block a shot by Georgia's Yante Maten (1) during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. Georgia defeated Tennessee 76-75. (Calvin Mattheis/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

KNOXVILLE - It was probably easy for the Tennessee men's basketball team to turn the page after Saturday's loss to Georgia.

Between the familiar frustration of losing a fifth game they led by at least 13 points and the quick turnaround for another shot at Kentucky tonight, the Volunteers had to be ready to move on and prepare for their next game.

With wins after both losses preceding Saturday's defeat, the Vols have shown bounce-back ability, but in neither of those cases were they tasked with beating a team as talented as the 13th-ranked Wildcats or winning at an arena where Tennessee has won four times in four decades.

"We talked with the team about it yesterday," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said Monday. "When we won in here (against Kentucky) last time, we were coming off a good win against Mississippi State here, and we were at home. Now we're coming off a tough loss and we're on the road. Our mindset's really important, how we're going to be able to get on to the next one.

"That's why I've told our players, right now win or lose you've got to let them go this time of year. You've got to get ready for the next game, and I hope that we do that. We'll get back at it today and see where we are and what we have to do. I think our players know full well what we have to do to compete at the level we need to compete at in Lexington.

"We've got to get that mindset going today and go in there tomorrow night and see if we can execute it."

Tennessee's execution was pretty close to flawless in upsetting then-No. 4 Kentucky in Knoxville on Jan. 24, as the Vols finally broke through against a ranked opponent after falling short in their previous six attempts against teams currently in the Top 25.

The upset and the rout of Kansas State that followed ignited Tennessee's NCAA tournament hopes, but the recent defeats to Mississippi State and Georgia have doused those flames, and now the Vols may have to split road games at Kentucky and South Carolina and hold serve in their other four to revive their postseason chances.

"They're good," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "I mean, I watched the Georgia game and they should've won that game, too. They're running their stuff. They're a matchup problem for everybody. Rick's doing an unbelievable job, which he always does, of getting his teams ready to battle and play. Whether you play man or zone (defense), he's got a good answer."

Kentucky's third loss in four trips to Knoxville sent the Wildcats into a mini-tailspin.

Kansas won in Lexington days later, and the following week Kentucky escaped Georgia at home in overtime, albeit without star point guard De'Aaron Fox, before being blasted at Florida.

The Wildcats recovered with contrasting wins against LSU in a shootout and Alabama in a slugfest and now are tied with Florida and South Carolina atop the Southeastern Conference standings.

"These guys are going to be ready for us because we beat them last time and it was only by two points," Vols freshman Grant Williams said after scoring 30 points in Saturday's defeat, "so I bet you they think it shouldn't have happened. We have to come in there ready to play. They're going to come out fighting, and we have to do the same thing."

Tennessee bounced back from the brutal loss at Ole Miss with an impressive rout of Mississippi State and recovered from the collapse at Mississippi State by notching a gritty comeback win against the Rebels.

What do the Vols have in store tonight as 14-point underdogs?

"I'd like to think they've learned that when you win, you can enjoy it for a little bit, but you better get ready for the next one," Barnes said. "And I'd like to think that when you lose and it's a whole different taste and a whole different feeling, you better have some perseverance in the fact that you've got to let that (go).

"You've got to go back and look. Young teams, when you win they probably have a little bit harder time, when you look at the tape, seeing the things they really didn't do well in that game. That's where young teams struggle with consistency.

"They're feeling good about it, but when you lose now, they sometimes may have a harder time letting it go, but there's no question you have their attention a whole lot more."

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