Barnes on UT-Memphis scratch: 'We burned $30,000 from our budget'

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Dec. 20—Details, details.

Tennessee men's basketball coach Rick Barnes provided plenty of details in Monday's news conference that was sandwiched between Saturday's canceled game against Memphis at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena and Wednesday night's challenge against No. 6 Arizona inside Thompson-Boling Arena. Saturday's in-state rivalry contest was called more than an hour before the tip due to COVID-related issues within the Memphis program.

"We burned approximately $30,000 from our budget," Barnes said, "and as bad as I felt for the players, I feel worse for our fans."

Memphis executive associate athletic director Adam Walker told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that two Tigers players tested positive for COVID, and that due to contact tracing, the rest of the roster was ruled out. The Commercial Appeal reported that Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said before the season that "probably 90%" of his players were vaccinated.

On a Zoom call Sunday afternoon, Hardaway said he "probably misspoke" about that vaccination number.

"I don't know anything that happened from their point of view," Barnes said. "All I want to do is hit it from our side, and 15 of our 17 players are vaccinated — 88 percent — and that includes every single one of our rotational players. Our guys want to play, and I give a lot of credit to our administrative staff for making sure our guys understood vaccination and what needed to happen there.

"We were there to play the game."

Barnes went into further detail by stating that the unvaccinated players for the No. 19 Volunteers were a walk-on and a freshman who is redshirting this season. He repeated that Saturday's matchup would not be rescheduled given that Tennessee hosts Arizona, has this Christmas weekend off, and travels to Alabama on Dec. 29 to begin a stretch that contains a midweek game and a weekend contest for the remainder of the season.

There are no scheduled games between Tennessee and Memphis in future seasons, either.

"Right now, SEC play is way too important for us going forward," Barnes said. "Plus we have the No. 1 team in the NET rankings coming in here in two days. We're not going to risk scheduling a team we know has many unvaccinated players. That would be irresponsible on our part. We wouldn't do that, whether it would be Memphis or anybody else."

Said Vols junior guard Santiago Vescovi: "It's the world we're living in today. You have to know that may happen sometimes. Of course we're frustrated because we wanted to play, but it is what it is, and we're focused on our next game."

An even bigger in-state rivalry, Kentucky-Louisville, was scheduled to take place Wednesday but had to be postponed Monday due to COVID matters within the Cardinals program. The inability for that to be rescheduled would mark the first time those two programs wouldn't vie since the 1981-82 season.

Nearly 40 Division I men's programs have paused activities within the last week, though Southeastern Conference members have been unscathed.

"In the SEC, you either play or you forfeit," Barnes said of the weeks ahead. "I can only tell you this — if we've got seven guys, we would get somebody out of the student body if we had to.

"I think it's the right thing to do for fans. I think it's the right thing to do."

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

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