It’s the rematch Vols basketball fans have been anticipating.
The in-state schools renewed their rivalry last year for the first time since 2013, and wouldn’t you know it, bad blood ensued.
Or at least the appearance of bad blood.
A verbal exchange had Tigers head coach Penny Hardaway claiming there were fists balled up by Tennessee players, although it’s difficult to see.
When the players exchanged words near the end of last year’s game, it ignited post-game words from Penny Hardaway.
Said Hardaway in 2018:”I just told the referee that the player ran over there. The guy that was on the bench. Ran over to our side. He balled his fist up and asked our guys pretty much like what was up like he wanted to fight.”
When Rick Barnes made fun of that accusation, let’s just say Hardaway wasn’t laughing.
Said Hardaway in 2018:”I don’t know who Rick Barnes thinks I am. I’m not a dude who just likes to mess around about anything. I call it like I see it. No matter how he is trying to make things seem.”
But with the rematch looming tomorrow, of course now it’s all kumbaya.
Said Hardaway today:”Last year’s game was last year’s game. You know I’ve always had a lot of respect for Coach Barnes. I just protected my team last year.”
Said Barnes:”I just think people try to make something out of nothing. I mean I’ve got great respect for what he has done. I know what he means to Memphis, and the program he has built there.”
While the coaches are down-playing last year’s incident, Big Orange fans likely won’t forget about it inside of Thompson Boling Arena.
Said Hardaway:”Because it’s a rivalry game. (chuckles) In-state game, and what happened last year as well. They’re going to be ready.”
Said Barnes:”But it should be a fun time. It’ll be a great atmosphere. I think it’s great for college basketball. It’s great for this state.”
The Vols have won 31 straight at home.
Memphis will have to try and snap that streak without 7-foot-freshman phenom James Wiseman, who is still suspended for violating NCAA rules.
Said Barnes:”They’re definitely a different team because you’ve got a guy of that caliber. I don’t think they have missed a beat in terms of what they want to do.”
Said Hardaway:”It was like they were more settled last year. This year they’re trying to find themselves. They’re trying to find this group’s identity.”