For Yves Pons, it’s been a bit of a slow start to the 2020-21 season. The senior forward returned to Knoxville in hopes of rounding out his game and improving his NBA Draft stock, but early on, the returns were lagging.
Pons scored in the single digits in the first three games of the year, seemingly landing on the backburner of the offense. He’s since come out of that mini-slump, scoring in double figures in three of the last four games. More importantly, he returned to his impactful self on the defensive end.
Pons now has eight blocks in the last four games after sending back four shots last night against Missouri. Tennessee’s eraser was back to looking like his old self again, adding six rebounds and 13 points to the cause, pushing the Volunteers to a 20 point win over the 12th ranked Tigers.
Rick Barnes said last week that they needed more from Pons — last night, they got that.
“He is becoming the player that we know he is and that we want him to be,” Barnes said of Pons after the game. “If you could’ve heard the reception that he got when he came off the TV interview into the locker room, it would show you the respect his teammates have for him. He was terrific tonight. He was the guy that, when he plays like that, above the rim, cleaning up things, fix-it plays, just really good.”
It’s understandable for Pons to get lost in the offensive shuffle, but he remains the most important defensive piece of this puzzle. Tennessee got the best version of Pons against Missouri, and a 20 point win over a top 15 team followed.
“He can get so much better,” Barnes said. “He really can. But he is a player that we know he can guard 1-5 spots. We were talking about maybe putting him on Tilmon a little bit, but we like the fact that he can come over and clean some things up. And he likes doing that. But whatever we ask him to do, he’s going to do it.”
The scary part about this Tennessee team is how many different ways they can win. Victor Bailey, Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James, Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer are all legitimate scoring options outside of John Fulkerson and Yves Pons. All of that to go along with the nation’s second-ranked defense, which makes the entire team tick.
You saw last night how important Pons is to that defense — and if you get that version of him on a nightly basis, good luck beating these Volunteers.