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Barnes: Uros Plavsic has ‘bought into the role’ Tennessee needs him to play

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Syndication: The Tennessean Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

Any win at Memorial Gym for Tennessee is a good one. The Volunteers know that they’re typically going to get Vanderbilt’s best shot in Nashville, and they answered the call on Tuesday night.

The big surprise was who played a key role in that win — Uros Plavsic. To this point in his career, Plavsic has been nothing more than a reserve big, coming off of the bench to give John Fulkerson an occasional breather. Against the Commodores, Plavsic started in his place.

He responded with 13 points and seven rebounds, including coming through in big moments in crunch time.

Rick Barnes doesn’t know why the light came on for Plavsic, but he has noticed a change in his seven-footer.

“I can’t tell you why, really, what made him,” Barnes said after the game. “A couple weeks ago you could just tell he finally said hey, I’m going to do exactly what this team needs. He does that. He’s got a great voice on the court. He talks. He’s a guy that can move the ball for us. But he’s waited for an opportunity and I thought he made the most of it.”

The junior center has widely been regarded as one of the best teammates you could ever ask you, as evidenced by his celebrations on the bench over the last two seasons. However, he hasn’t gotten much done on the floor to this point. That may be beginning to change though.

Plavsic is only averaging 12 minutes per game this season, but he handled 21 against Vanderbilt. Fulkerson only played 17 minutes. Barnes said there would be changed after the Kentucky blowout, and we certainly got a shakeup on Tuesday.

Plavsic got the call thanks to his recent buy-in.

“It is really simple,” Barnes said. “He has strictly bought into the role that we need him to play. We tell him all the time if he will get in his head that he will play great defense for us, rebound the ball and on offense, we tried to limit him to a couple of areas on the floor where we want him to be effective. Then ball-screen defense, if he is not fatigued, he does a really good job there. Sometimes, he does a good job normally too letting us know he needs to get out. I think him getting to play more, that has helped him. He has really simplified his thought process on the offensive end. He is taking more seriously what he needs to do on the defensive end.”

Brandon Huntley-Hatfield logged 13 minutes as well, as Tennessee evened out the minutes in the frontcourt a bit. The Volunteers have started slow in SEC play, and Barnes is looking for any sort of spark he can find.

We’ll see if we get more of the same on Saturday at home against LSU.