- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee backed up the vote of confidence Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings had given his in-state rival.

Two days after Stallings predicted Tennessee would perform well in the NCAA tournament, the Volunteers hammered Vanderbilt 76-38 on Saturday to boost their hopes of actually cracking the 68-team field.

Tennessee (18-11, 9-7 SEC) entered the day on the NCAA tournament bubble. The Vols visit Auburn on Wednesday and host Missouri on March 8 in their final two regular-season games.

“All our games are important from here on out,” Tennessee guard Antonio Barton said. “These last (two) games, we’ve got to take them personally leading into the SEC tournament. We have to win out.”

Barton had a season-high 21 points and a career-high six assists as Tennessee posted its most one-sided victory in this rivalry’s 185-game history. Vanderbilt’s 38 points were the fewest scored by any Tennessee opponent in the history of Thompson-Boling Arena, the Vols’ home floor since 1987-88.

Tennessee’s inconsistency this season had turned up the pressure on Vols coach Cuonzo Martin, who is seeking his first NCAA bid in his third year on the job. Stallings defended Martin on Thursday by saying “it’s absolutely a joke” that the Tennessee coach was facing questions about job security. Stallings added that he expected Tennessee to earn an NCAA bid regardless of what happened Saturday.

Stallings offered similar comments about Tennessee’s postseason prospects after Saturday’s game.

“I’ve been saying all season long that they’re a really good team,” Stallings said. “I think they’ve got a chance to do very well in the NCAA tournament.”

Before Saturday, Tennessee’s most one-sided victory over Vanderbilt was a 56-21 blowout on Feb. 22, 1947. The most one-sided win by either team is a 108-68 Vanderbilt triumph on Jan. 8, 1991.

This game represented a stark contrast from Tennessee’s 64-60 loss at Vanderbilt on Feb. 5.

In the first meeting between these two teams, Vanderbilt (15-13, 7-9) shot 60 percent in the first half and owned a 12-point lead early in the second half. In Saturday’s rematch, Tennessee led 41-18 at halftime.

The biggest difference came from Barton.

After struggling for much of the season and losing his starting job in late January, Barton moved back into the starting lineup Wednesday in a 75-68 victory at Mississippi State. He shot 7 of 11 overall and 5 of 7 from 3-point range Saturday in his best all-around performance of the year.

Barton’s 21 points marked his highest point total since he scored 21 against Tennessee while playing for Memphis during the 2011-12 season. Barton, who graduated from Memphis last summer, transferred to Tennessee for his final year of eligibility.

“These last two games, I thought he had a good floor game, not just shooting the ball, but I thought he did a good job probing the defense, getting assists, finding guys,” Martin said.

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