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Randy Sartin/USA Today Sports / Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes talks with freshman guard Keon Johnson during Saturday night's 80-61 whipping of Kansas inside Thompson-Boling Arena.

Within a recent 12-day stretch, Tennessee lost to Florida by 26 points and built a 26-point lead against Kansas, which is not quite the stability Volunteers sixth-year basketball coach Rick Barnes looks to maintain moving forward.

Tennessee improved to 12-3 with Saturday night's 80-61 rout of the Jayhawks and will look to build off that performance during a Tuesday night trip to Ole Miss (7 on ESPN2). The Vols have lost two of their past three Southeastern Conference contests, including that heinous 75-49 showing in Gainesville on Jan. 19.

"I think you're always concerned when you don't do the things you feel like you're capable of," Barnes said Monday afternoon. "I also know the old saying in coaching that you're never as good as you think you are and you're probably never as bad as you think you are. We're somewhere in the middle, probably, and the answer is that word 'consistency.' Can we get consistent with it?

"When we've had everybody healthy, I think we've been better, and I don't think there's any question about that, but we're a good enough team that we shouldn't get beat as badly as we did against Florida."

Tennessee's win over Kansas was friendly on the national landscape, as the Vols have returned to the top-10 in the NET rankings at No. 9 and jumped from No. 18 to No. 11 in the latest Associated Press poll. The preseason picks to win the league will look to enhance their 5-3 SEC mark against an erratic Ole Miss squad that is 8-8 overall and 3-6 in conference play.

Several Tennessee players Saturday night credited a fiery Barnes for snapping them out of their recent doldrums.

"We needed a big change," senior guard/forward Yves Pons said of the jarring team meeting Friday. "We haven't been the Tennessee team we've been from the beginning. The talk we had yesterday was really effective and efficient. We freed our minds and focused on what we have to do personally and what our jobs are on the team, and tonight I think everyone showed what they have to do."

Players referred to Friday's gathering as a "Come to Jesus" meeting, and Barnes was asked Monday what those meetings look like.

"I would like to think that our players know that we're going to be truthful," he said. "We're going to watch the film, and we're not going to hold back. You're going to show them the good, the bad and the ugly, and sometimes you've got to go deeper than that. I believe you need to take days off from that, because I think it hurts them in the long run, but the biggest thing I think you can do is be brutally honest.

"I don't want to use the word harsh, but sometimes the truth hurts. I would never say anything to them that I couldn't validate with the tape. I can arrest them, but the tape charges them."

The Vols were far more aggressive and energized against Kansas compared to Florida, and they were also healthier. Pons got beat up a bit against the Jayhawks but managed to finish the game, and it's not known how healthy he will be in Oxford, but Barnes expects the Vols to be competitive no matter the five he puts on the floor.

"So much of the game is mental, and you can get rocked back a little bit, and sometimes it takes a little longer to get out of it," he said. "We cost ourselves in games because we would not shoot the ball, and it led to a lot of turnovers, and if we can continue shooting, it will take a lot of pressure off of us.

"You're not going to make them all, and nobody makes them all against us, but we're all looking for consistency from everybody. I can't tell you why we had that big of a discrepancy other than it gets back to consistency."

 

Springer honored

Guard Jaden Springer earned the SEC Freshman of the Week award Monday for the second time this season. Springer averaged 11.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in wins last week over Mississippi State and Kansas.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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