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From left, Tennessee's Kevin Punter, Derek Reese, Admiral Schofield and Devon Baulkman, from left, team up to steal the ball from Georgia forward Yante Maten during last month's game in Athens.

KNOXVILLE — Coming down the stretch, Rick Barnes may be tempted to start a youth movement with an eye toward his second season as Tennessee's men's basketball coach.

He'd like to get a couple of his struggling veterans going, too, though.

Devon Baulkman and Robert Hubbs III combined for just four points in 30 minutes in Saturday's 18-point loss at Arkansas, and after some bright starts to the season, neither upperclassman has played well recently heading into tonight's 7 p.m. home game against Auburn and former Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl.

"You keep coaching," Barnes said Monday. "That's what it is. You keep coaching them and you've got to find ways (to) try to get to the core of it and get them to understand to get their mindset right. Each guy has a little bit different mindset. I could look at it where we think Robert is and where Devon is, and I think they both are great kids (with) great hearts.

"When it gets to playing basketball, they both, I think, have different issues in terms of why they don't play well. You've got to be able to spend time with them, talk to them about it and address it with them. I don't think you just push it to the side and think it's going to take care of itself. I don't think it works like that."

Baulkman scored a career-high 22 points against Gardner-Webb in November, but in the six games since scoring 14 points in Tennessee's Jan. 16 win at Mississippi State, he has scored eight or fewer points. In his past five games, the senior is averaging 2.4 points and shooting 20 percent (5-for-25) from the field and 14 percent (2-for-4) from 3-point range.

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He has been effective defensively at times in some tough assignments, but he has lost his shooting touch.

Hubbs has been more of a mystery. He has scored in double figures 15 times in 23 games this season, but he has just 12 points in the past three games. In that span, he is 4-of-17 from the field. The 16 minutes he played Saturday night in Fayetteville were a season low.

"As long as they're willing and they're willing to be coached, that's what coaching is," Barnes said. "It's an everyday situation where mentally, as much as you worry about the physical part, the mental part is, I've said before, like four is to one. You just simply talk about it with them, and you talk about it as a team because they all need each other.

"What happens most of the time when guys aren't playing well is they're kind of on an island by themselves, to where they're just thinking about themselves — as opposed to (becoming) one-sided in their thinking, all they're thinking about is making shots. When they do that, it really affects them."

Seniors Kevin Punter Jr. and Armani Moore have been the most consistent players for an inconsistent team, and the Vols unquestionably are at their best when two or three others are playing their roles and impacting the game, whether it's scoring, rebounding or defending.

Barnes said he's "really happy" with the freshmen trio of Kyle Alexander, Shembari Phillips and Admiral Schofield, and while Baulkman and Hubbs have struggled, the rookie trio combined to average 17.3 points the past three games.

Moore had a tough stretch earlier this season when his struggles were evident, and Barnes is hopeful the other two veterans can come out of their rough patches in similar fashion.

"He put a little bit more time into it, started controlling the things that he could control and really got lost back into the team," Barnes said. "He quit worrying about making a shot or making a free throw and just played the game. We need more guys (doing that).

"Like I've said, we've got a good group of guys, and it's up to us as coaches, as long they'll keep doing what they're doing and as long as they'll keep working at it, we're going to keep fighting with them and try to help teach them to get through those demons they sometimes have to deal with."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

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