Connections run deep as No. 4 Tennessee hosts No. 10 Texas
It will be a case of "out of the frying pan and into the fire" when No. 4 Tennessee hosts No. 10 Texas on Saturday in a much-anticipated Big 12/SEC Challenge game in Knoxville.
The teams play in two of the toughest leagues in the nation, but the battle Saturday is no reprieve. Instead, it feels like a potential orange-and-white-hued matchup in the Sweet 16 between teams connected by many common bonds.
The two programs played last season for the first time since current Tennessee coach Rick Barnes was fired in 2015 after coaching the Longhorns for 17 seasons. He was hired by Volunteers two days after his firing and has been in Knoxville for eight years.
Texas (17-3) heads into Saturday's dustup after an 89-75 win at home over Oklahoma State on Tuesday. Marcus Carr poured in 21 points to lead the Longhorns' workmanlike performance. Timmy Allen scored 17 and Brock Cunningham added 15 points, with Dylan Disu racking up 12 points and eight rebounds.
The Longhorns swept the regular-season series from the Cowboys. Texas led for all but the first two minutes of the game, built an eight-point edge at halftime and never let Oklahoma State closer than six in the second half.
Texas has won two straight after a loss at Iowa State on Jan. 17 and is now 10-2 under interim coach Rodney Terry. Terry was an assistant under Barnes in the latter's stint in Austin.
"We'll play the best defensive team in the country on Saturday," Terry said. "Coach Barnes, he's like family to me. He's a mentor, someone I stay in close contact with on a regular basis. It's gonna be a great game. It's gonna be a great atmosphere. It's what you want when you come to Texas to play in these types of games."
The Volunteers (17-3) have won eight of their past nine games, most recently a 70-41 victory Wednesday at home over Georgia. Tennessee's stifling defense was on full display, limiting Georgia to just 29.1 percent shooting from the floor, a 4-of-22 showing from beyond the arc, and the Bulldogs' fewest points of the season.
"Once we settled in, we've got an unselfish team," Barnes said. "We had talked about -- coming into the game -- defensively what we needed to do to get better. We still think we've got a ways to go there."
The win also offered an exhibition of the Volunteers' deep and balanced offense. Zakai Zeigler led Tennessee with 11 points while Tobe Awaka had 10 as nine different Volunteers scored five or more points.
"These guys work hard, and if they work hard, we are going to (play them)," Barnes said. "We trust them all. We do. We will give them all the chance to play if they earn it and hope that when their number is called, they are productive."
Tennessee has captured 11 of its 17 wins by at least 20 points -- which is tied for the most in a season in program history. Four of those 20-plus blowouts have come in SEC play and two have been in back-to-back games with its 77-56 win at LSU on Saturday and against Georgia on Wednesday.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 26, 2023