Olivier Nkamhoua explains Tennessee's recent issues with fouls

On3 Staff Report01/19/23
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Olivier Nkamhoua, Tennessee Volunteers forward
Tennessee forward Olivier Nkamhoua looks incredulous during a game on Jan. 14, 2023. (Eakin Howard / Getty Images)

The No. 9 Tennessee Volunteers have won six of their last seven games and are rolling in SEC play with a shot at the league title, even if its big men have had some recent issues with fouls.

In a recent loss to Kentucky, big man Uros Plavsic fouled out while both Zakai Zeigler and Julian Phillips had to tread water with four fouls.

In a midweek win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs, big man Olivier Nkamhoua got into foul trouble with four.

“I think the fouling is a little bit unfortunate, it’s not like we try to foul,” Nkamhoua explained, breaking down the issue. “But I think with how hard we play defense and how we play defense sometimes it just ends up as the refs are kind of seeing what they’re seeing and they see us play hard.”

It’s not like the fouls are a major problem; Tennessee is only averaging a shade over its season-long marks in the past five games.

The Volunteers have averaged 18.6 fouls per game in that span, vs. the season average of 17.0 per game. So long as Tennessee isn’t giving away cheap fouls, Nkamhoua is fine with the way the Vols are playing, including the recent issues with fouls.

“Sometimes fouls come from us just trying to do the right things, be in the right places,” he said. “Sometimes you’re late. Sometimes you’re trying to block a shot that you can’t get and it’s a foul. I feel like it almost comes from us playing hard.”

Rick Barnes on importance of breakout performance from Zakai Zeigler with others out

Tennessee topped Mississippi State 70-59 on Tuesday night despite playing without two of the team’s stars, managing to win on the road in large part thanks to a breakout performance by Zakai Zeigler.

The point guard managed to score a season-high 24 points while having to play cautiously with backcourt mates Santiago Vescovi and Tyreke Key out due to injury.

“I think we had to throttle back,” coach Rick Barnes said. “We knew coming in tonight that we were going to be down 10 fouls in the backcourt. We had one point guard. Even though we would look at (Josiah-Jordan James) as being a point-forward, a guy that can handle the ball if necessary, we knew Zakai was going to have to play a lot of minutes and we told him, ‘Hey, you can’t get in foul trouble.’

“He has a hard time doing that, backing up. Because his instincts, he wants to go play 94 feet, he wants to be aggressive and we obviously were in a really contained, tight defense.”

But Zeigler had no issues doing so on Tuesday night in the double-digit win over the Bulldogs.

He played every single minute in the contest and managed to finish with just three personal fouls. He matched his season-high with six rebounds, while also contributing four assists and three steals in the effort.