Edward: Men's Basketball Practice

KNOXVILLE, TN - Photos from the UT men and women's first basketball practices of the 2022-2023 season, open to the media on Tuesday Sep. 27 and Wednesday Sep. 28, 2022 in Pratt Pavilion. 

Just a few possessions into the game, Uros Plasvic and Drew Timme found themselves chirping at one another on their way down the court. The game between Tennessee and Gonzaga had all of the competitiveness of a tournament game, even if the results didn’t technically matter.

The battle between Plasvic and Timme, who is in the running for the National Player of the Year, lasted all night.

“He’s one of the best bigs in the country,” Plasvic said. “I was looking forward to this challenge.”

Plasvic finished the game with 13 points on 6/6 shooting as No. 11 Tennessee made a 99-80 win over No. 2 Gonzaga look easy.

It wasn't Tennessee's usual stars that shined Friday – Josiah-Jordan James didn’t play and Santiago Vescovi had a quiet night. Instead, it was some newcomers and some familiar players from last season that stepped up.

Tyreke Key took no time adjusting to his new colors. The graduate transfer from Indiana State checked in halfway through the first and hit five free throws, a fadeaway jumper and three back-to-back threes to give him 16 first half points.

He didn't cool down in the second half, hitting a three out of a timeout to put the Vols up by 19 with just over three minutes to play. Key finished the game with 26 points on 8/12 shooting and 4/7 from deep, a hot start to his career at Tennessee.

Before last week’s scrimmage against Michigan State, Key hadn’t played a game since the 2020-21 season because of a shoulder injury. His shooting arm had no issues on Friday.

“He looked really relaxed tonight,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “We’ve seen him do it. We know he has the ability to get going and we’ve watched him do it all summer.”

Key stepped up on the defensive end too, forcing a turnover and making life difficult on Gonzaga’s perimeter players.

“I thought in the first half his defense was outstanding,” Barnes said.

Tennessee's hot offense in the first half was marred by its sloppy play on the defensive end. The Vols picked up 12 fouls in the first half, giving up 11 points at the line.

The Zags also didn't have a clean first half, picking up 11 fouls. Timme had four fouls in the first half alone, though the numbers didn’t make a difference as the game had no foul-out limit.

Gonzaga senior forward Rasir Bolton hit three threes late in the half to keep the Zags in the game and then pull ahead 54-50 to close out the half.

Freshman Julian Phillips got his first bucket for the Vols on the first play of the second half as he hit a turnaround jumper. Phillips also hit back-to-back threes to make it a 94-76 lead with just four minutes to play, putting Tennessee in good position to coast to the win.

Phillips, along with the rest of Tennessee’s freshmen, have gotten thrown right into college basketball. They didn’t get an easy few teams to coast through before the regular season, but rather two powerhouses in Michigan State and Gonzaga.

“It’s two high-level, highly ranked teams that they’re experiencing,” Zeigler said. “That just shows the level that we’re going to play at the entire year. I think it’s really good to put them in the fire right away and say, ‘Hey, you gotta grow up really quick.’ It was really good for them.”

It took Tennessee all but five minutes to start pulling away from Gonzaga in the second half. The Vols’ defense led to a hot offense and Tennessee went on a 12-2 run to build a 19 point lead heading down the stretch.

“I think this game tonight just shows all the work we’ve put in since we got back on campus in June,” Plasvic said.

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