Vols; released player just got fired from the team after discorvering his’…

Tobe Awaka doesn’t show much emotion normally. Maybe in practice, but almost never during a game.

That changed in Rupp Arena. Awaka got in the face of Kentucky’s Aaron Bradshaw and shared some choice words. Both got hit with technical fouls.

Awaka went on to score four points and six rebounds, with crucial plays following his scuffle that fired up the Vols’ bench. The performance was enough to help Tennessee earn a massive road win over Kentucky, 103-92, on Saturday.

“I thought it was just competitors being competitors,” Awaka said. “Definitely gave us a little bit of a spark. From there, I just knew I had to do my job. Do what I had to do to help my team win. Produce in any way I could.”

Awaka continues to find the line between playing aggressively and fouling. He averaged 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes last year, and that number is up to 8.0 fouls per 40 minutes in 2023-24.

The 6-foot-8 and 250-pounder averages 4.9 rebounds and 4.7 points in 12.5 points per game. He remains a crucial piece for the Vols with March rapidly approaching.

“We have great expectations for Tobe,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “I tell everyone that he is still young to the game and has such a bright future. He cares a lot, and when you have players that you know really have a deep care for themselves and their teammates, it obviously makes you feel good because you know how much he cares and how much he doesn’t want to disappoint and wants to do what’s right for himself. But also, and most important, he wants to make sure he’s doing his job for his teammates.”

Awaka and No. 6 Tennessee (16-5, 6-2 SEC) follow up the top-10 road win with a home matchup against LSU.

A look at the Tigers 

LSU is averaging 77.5 points per game while shooting 45.8% from the field.

It’s somewhat of a bounce-back season for LSU. After finishing last year 14-19 overall with just two SEC wins, the Tigers are currently 12-9 overall and 4-4 in conference play.

“Coach (Matt) McMahon does a really good job,” Barnes said. “He’s been successful everywhere he’s been able to build his roster. He walked into a very difficult situation a year ago but was able to use the portal to get what he felt like he needed to continue to build the program the way that he wanted to build it.

“Very explosive team. They’re very difficult to guard. A lot like Kentucky, can make extremely difficult shots even if you guard them. Really good schemes. And he gets the matchups that he wants, and he’s done a really good job putting together a group of guys that can.”

LSU finds success when it can spread the floor and put stress on defenses at all three levels. Former Vanderbilt guard Jordan Wright is leading the way for the Tigers with 15.5 points pregame on 40% from the field.

A unique aspect for the Tigers, 7-footer Will Baker is averaging 11.7 points per game while shooting 52.4% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc.

“If we’re in switching situations, obviously we can get out there,” Barnes said. “But ball-screen coverage, depending on if they pop or roll, it is a different thing. But that’s the one thing that we’ve worked at all year trying to get our post guys to be able to get out and guard further away from the basket.”

Tip is set for 7 p.m. ET between LSU and Tennessee in Knoxville. KenPom projects the Vols to pick up an 82-67 win.

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