After Tennessee fended off Colgate's upset bid Friday with a 77-70 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, point guard Jordan Bone chose to take the "glass is half-full" approach when asked for his take on the game.
"I want to say first that was a really good team. They fought super hard. And we couldn't appreciate that honestly anymore," Bone said. "I feel like they prepared us well for our upcoming game against Iowa."
Volunteers fans would rather have seen their team undergo a less stern test, one that could raise questions about their ability to win a national championship. Second-seeded Tennessee (30-5) will try to reach the South Region semifinals Sunday against the 10th-seeded Hawkeyes at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
The Volunteers blew a 14-point second-half lead and led by just three with two minutes left before Admiral Schofield drilled consecutive 3-pointers to decide the outcome. The game exposed recent Tennessee weaknesses, such as defending the perimeter game and occasionally sketchy decisions with the ball.
After permitting 15 3-pointers in an 84-64 defeat to Auburn in the Southeastern Conference Tournament title game on March 17, the Volunteers saw Colgate convert 15 more from long distance Friday. They also were guilty of quick-shooting at times offensively, not getting national Player of the Year candidate Grant Williams involved as much as they normally do.
"I didn't think we worked hard enough in the game to put the ball inside," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "I didn't think Grant really fought for his positioning."
It seems likely that the Volunteers will try to get Williams, who took just six shots Friday and scored only nine points, 10 under his average, going early on Sunday. Some early points for Williams could force Iowa to double-team him inside and perhaps leave driving lanes open for Bone.
But the Hawkeyes (23-11) have the kind of offensive balance that could lead to a high-scoring game. They solved Cincinnati's defense for 48 second-half points Friday, overcoming an early 13-point deficit and taking a 79-72 win.
Luka Garza was an efficient 8 of 11 from the field and scored 20 points for Iowa, which canned 54.7 percent of its field goal attempts and made 11 of 22 on 3-pointers.
"He's come up big in a lot of games this year," Hawkeyes point guard Jordan Bohannon said of Garza. "He was dominant down low tonight, or this morning, I guess. And we know if we fed him the ball down low, he was either going to get an easy basket, draw a foul or kick it out."
Iowa averages more than 78 points per game and Tennessee averages 81.8 ppg. The Volunteers are a top 10 team in field goal percentage (49.7), assists (18.2), assist-turnover ratio (1.6) and blocked shots (5.4).
The teams last played in the NCAA tourney five years ago during the First Four in Dayton. Tennessee wiped out a big early deficit and won in overtime, eventually reaching the Midwest Region semifinals before losing to Michigan.
Sunday's winner meets Purdue or Villanova in the regional semifinals in Louisville on Thursday night.
--Field Level Media