When the latest AP Top 25 came out on Monday afternoon, the Tennessee basketball team remained at No. 1 for the fourth straight week.
After beating Florida at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday, the Vols one-upped their program-record winning streak to an 18th victory in a row. Head coach Rick Barnes also set a career-best with 18 consecutive wins.
“I think you guys know how much love we have for this team and the fact that they have worked hard for what they have gotten,” Barnes said. “In terms of the win streak … the fact of the matter is I just say ‘let’s win the next one.’”
Barnes’ mentality — and one his players have seemingly taken to heart — has led the Vols to a perfect record (10-0) in SEC play thus far.
Tennessee also holds the nation’s longest active winning streak, along with a 22 victories in a row at home, which is the longest such streak of the Barnes era. Dating back to last season, the Vols have won a program-record 14 consecutive SEC games.
“We don’t have any magic dust,” Barnes said. “It’s just can we get our minds trained … really believing our best basketball is ahead of us.”
Tennessee’s veteran leaders — senior guard Admiral Schofield and senior forward Kyle Alexander — have been with Barnes since his rudimentary days in Knoxville.
For Schofield, who is averaging 16.5 points per game, this stretch of games has taught the Vols a valuable lesson.
“We got to get back to enjoying winning,” Schofield said. “We haven’t been in this position before, so it’s just been feeling like a business for us. At the same time, it’s a great experience. This is my last year, this is Kyle’s last year and guys are playing well … we got to really enjoy it.”
Barnes was the all-time winningest coach in Texas history, where he advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 16 of his 17 seasons. Now, Barnes has excelled in his first four seasons at Tennessee.
Barnes' principles have always been grounded in defense, fundamentals and tough coaching. Schofield has seen the way these principles have shaped the Vols’ culture.
“We know that most times when we win big or just win, coach Barnes is going to come in and kill that vibe anyway,” Schofield said. “So we have been straightforward taking care of business … instead of enjoying what is happening. Enjoying the history that we are making, the records that we are breaking.”
Barnes — the “vibe-killer” — knows he can be tough on his players, and he wants them to have fun winning.
“I want these guys to enjoy what we are doing, and I am probably not the easiest guy to let that happen because I am always thinking of ways we can get better and I want to do it right now, but I appreciate how hard they have competed,” Barnes said. “I appreciate the fact that they do want to get better.”
However, Barnes still mixes in his fundamental truths when he praises his team.
“It’s fleeting,” Barnes said. “When you start trying to bask in what you have done up to this point, you lose sight of what you need to keep doing to get better.”
Tennessee faces South Carolina at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols earned a 92-70 win over the Gamecocks in Columbia on Jan. 29.
“We’ve got a lot that we can say we are proud of right now, but that’s over and done with,” Barnes said. “I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s about the next game.”