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Rick Barnes likes new aggressive style from Julian Phillips on offense

Alex Weberby:Alex Weber01/13/23

Tennessee did not impose the dominance many expected in their mid-week win over lowly Vanderbilt, winning just 77-68. Lately, the Volunteers are playing better than anyone in the country, especially on the defensive end, where they rate as KenPom’s No. 1 defense on the year and by a significant margin. So that end of the court isn’t a worry whatsoever for the Vols. If they don’t wind up as the best defense by the end of the year, they’ll certainly be in the top five or 10.

However, head coach Rick Barnes saw a major positive development on the offense end of the court in the Vandy victory in the form of freshman Julian Phillips. The five-star wing may be the most talented player on the entire Volunteer roster — and he’s starting to show that promise on the offensive end. Against the Commodores, Phillips poured in 15 points to tie the team-high alongside Santiago Vescovi — who Barnes also raved about after the game.

Phillips has had high-scoring games this season, but the difference this time around was how he got to 15. He’s struggled to score with efficiency so far but played more deliberate basketball on offense vs. Vanderbilt. Meaning…he moved well within the offense, made the right cuts at the right time and was wiser with his shot selection, which led to an efficient 15-point outing on just nine shots.

“I thought he moved better without the ball. I thought he was making more than one cut, stopping and playing,” said Barnes of the freshman after the game. “The first play of the game he made a great, what we call a marine cut. He came back off the money pin down and kept going, got going downhill. That’s a big thing for him.”

From the jump, Phillips played purposeful basketball on the offensive end, but also on the defensive end as well. He’d been a great defender all year, though, so the offensive improvement was welcome sight for a kid who’s developing into an all-around player.

Of course, Vandy was still able to take advantage of one or two rookie mistakes.

“He made a great effort to get on the glass. Defensively he’s working,” continued Barnes. “They got him tonight coming out of a timeout, but you’ve got to give it to them. He was up, we knew had to defend the three-point line, but they set him up with another good call by Coach Stackhouse and scored quickly. In those situations you can’t let teams come down and score that quickly out of a timeout. I think Julian, again, he’s still just getting started. The more he plays the more I think we’ll see him continue to assert himself offensively.”

High praise from Rick Barnes on the lone true freshman in Tennessee’s primary rotation. Julian Phillips is going to need to continue his quick development in order to keep up with the stable of veterans he shares the floor with on a nightly basis.