Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
A spirit that is not afraid

Everything Auburn players, Bruce Pearl said about Chuma Okeke's injury, Kentucky matchup

<p>Bryce Brown (2) drives during Auburn basketball vs. North Carolina in the Midwest Region semifinal of the 2019 NCAA Tournament on March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. Photo courtesy Lauren Talkington / The Glomerata. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p>

Bryce Brown (2) drives during Auburn basketball vs. North Carolina in the Midwest Region semifinal of the 2019 NCAA Tournament on March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. Photo courtesy Lauren Talkington / The Glomerata.   

After an upset victory over top-seeded North Carolina on Friday, Auburn will face Kentucky for the third time this season on Sunday (1:20 p.m. CST, CBS) for a shot at its first Final Four in program history.

Courtesy of NCAA Tournament media relations, here's everything Bruce Pearl and Auburn had to say about the Wildcats, Chuma Okeke's injury and more.

Q. Bruce, can you give us the latest on Chuma Okeke?

BRUCE PEARL: Okay. Chuma has a torn ACL and he’s scheduled to have surgery on Tuesday with Dr. James Andrews.

Q. Bryce, I see you shaking your head. I guess just what’s it like dealing with the emotions of hearing that news, trying to get up for this game and everything you guys are dealing with right now?

BRYCE BROWN: I don’t know. It’s just hard to take in. I mean Chuma, he doesn’t deserve that at all. He worked so hard, spent so much time in the gym and making sure his body is right. It’s our jobs to pick him up, lift him up, encourage him, and all we want to do at this point is go out there and play for him. We’re going to use it at motivation. Hopefully we can do this for our boy.

THE MODERATOR: Let’s get a second answer to that one. Jared, chime in on the injury.

JARED HARPER: It’s tough to lose Chuma. Like I said yesterday, I felt like he’s our most valuable player for our team, all the things that he’s able to do in the court, guard 1 through 5, be able to smooth from perimeter, score inside and just do all those things. I know we’re going to get that production of all those things he did from all of us it’s going to take all of us, not just one single person.

Q. This is for Bryce. Bryce, when you guys lost in Rupp Arena, it was your 9th loss, how close did you guys think your season was to sort of coming apart or not making the tournament and what did Coach Pearl do to sort of steady the ship and get it going in the right direction?

BRYCE BROWN: We knew they played really well. We didn’t let that get to us mentally. We knew after that game what we needed to work on. And I felt like every since then, we worked on those things. And coach challenged us a little bit to work on those things, and I felt like ever since then, we’ve been clicking and rolling. I never had this part of the Elite 8 in doubt, Sweet 16 in doubt, Final Four in doubt. I never had that doubt. Always believed in my team.

Q. This is for Jared, any of the players, really. Have you ever been on a team that has been so red hot right the way you guys are right now?

THE MODERATOR: Jared start and Anfernee please chime in as well.

JARED HARPER: I just think as we start the season, we were winning games. We knew we weren’t playing our best basketball. Then we went through a period where we lost of a couple games and still weren’t playing our best basketball. But as a team and as Coach Pearl did, we had to figure out a way to be playing our best basketball around this time when it’s most important. So, that’s just a tribute to all my teammates and all the work that we put in and just staying together during the whole time

.ANFERNEE MCLEMORE: I believe that we may have been spoiled early in the season from the previous year’s success. But coming from the Kentucky loss, there was a point in the locker room we felt like we were tired of losing. The atmosphere changed and all the guys became locked in and ready. We was more engaged and more ready to take on the rest of the season.

Q. This question is for everybody. You guys have beaten Kansas, North Carolina, and now you have a chance to beat Kentucky. These are the all time winningest programs in basketball. Were any of you guys recruited by any of those three schools?

THE MODERATOR: Horace, you’re first. Malik second. Jared, you’re third.

HORACE SPENCER: I wasn’t recruited by any of those schools. We’re be ready to play. You play good team defense as a unit and be able to prosper in that area.

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Auburn Plainsman delivered to your inbox

MALIK DUNBAR: I wasn’t, either. Here and Ole Miss were my two biggest offers. I’m ready to play whoever they put in front of us. I’m blessed with the opportunity.

JARED HARPER: No, I wasn’t recruited by any of the schools. I think Chuma was recruited by Kansas. I don’t know. I don’t think we really take that too personal. We felt like we’re all good players. We’ve all been good players and have a great coach that believes in us here at Auburn. It was a perfect situation for all of us. We’re just happy to be here.

BRYCE BROWN: I wasn’t recruited at all.

ANFERNEE MCLEMORE: No, I wasn’t recruited by any of those.

Q. It doesn’t mean you guys have no lack of confidence. Bryce, you know, talk about the amount of confidence that you guys have built up over this past 11 game winning streak.

BRYCE BROWN: I just feel like it just goes back to having the chip on our shoulder. Once we took a few loses midway through the season, I felt like we wasn’t -- it wasn’t the worse thing to happen for us. I feel like it opened our guys, woke us up a little bit and realize what our main focus needed to be and we got that chip back on our shoulder. We became more of the underdogs, and that’s when I feel like we’re at our best. That’s how it’s going to be from here on out.

Q. Jared, a question for you. Obviously you guys have been on this red hot streak. That’s got to be kind of an emotional high. And then have Chuma’s injury, it’s pretty press shocking for you guys. I know it’s kind of sudden, but how have you handled that emotional rollercoaster and how would you describe the mood of the team right now?

JARED HARPER: I think last night after the game, it was a little bit tougher than it is on us right now. I think this is just another reason for our team to come even closer. Last year we faced a lot of adversity with a lot of stuff going on. So that brought our team closer. And then Anfernee went down with the injury last year, and that brought our team even closer. And for this to happen, it brings our team even closer again. Knowing that we know that we’re -- we are all we got, that we’ll always have each others’ backs.

Q. To the players, any of you, what do you take away from the first time you played Kentucky to the second time you played Kentucky until now? Can you take anything away from those two previous games?

THE MODERATOR: We’ll start with Horace and work our way left. Horace, start us.

HORACE SPENCER: They’re a great defensive team, and PJ Washington is a pretty big force of nature, both offensively and offensively. Tyler Herro is a pretty good offensive player as well. I feel like us -- we got to play good, collective team defense. Cut inside and do our jobs and just do what we can to stop those two players. They’re the primary sources of offense.

MALIK DUNBAR: Sort of the same. They’re a great defensive and rebounding team. They play fast and got some good guys. We got to stop them, play hard, understand our coverages, just play together.

ANFERNEE MCLEMORE: Got to limit the impact in transition. I know they’re very talented they get out on the break and get a lot of stops defensively and play fast. We got to make sure we limit the amount of easy points they get, make sure we get back on the defensive end, and also play well offensively.

JARED HARPER: Just need to continue to do the things that we’ve been doing offensively and defensively. Being able to get into the lane, hit people for open shots. We had 21 assists last night. That’s a big thing. The coach wants us to look to force 20 turnovers and get 20 assists. That’s a goal for us. Continue to do that, continue to play two halves of defense, we’ll be good.

BRYCE BROWN: They kind of said it all. Doing what we do. Playing to our strengths. Kentucky they got us pretty good at their house, but that’s when I felt like we weren’t playing our best basketball. And just got to continue to do what we’re doing now and competing on defensive side of the ball and sharing the ball on offense.

THE MODERATOR: Stay there.

Q. Bryce, curious, what do you think of the role emotions are going to play in this game? Because looking at Kentucky, they may be coming off a high, they got Washington back and they seemed pretty upbeat about it. You guys obviously went through this hard injury with Chuma. How is that going to maybe play a factor in tomorrow’s game?

BRYCE BROWN: Like I said earlier, it’s going -- it’s going to motivate us, knowing that one of our soldiers aren’t able to be out there and battle with us. On their side of the ball, I feel like Washington is kind of fresh and he’s probably just eager to get out there and just ready to compete. So, we both have certain things going to motivate us, but the better team wins, I feel like.

Q. Jared or Bryce, you guys have played Kentucky twice. You know each other well. You’re in the same conference. You pretty much know everything about them. They know everything about you. Is that a good thing or bad thing going into a game like this?

JARED HARPER: I guess you can say it’s a good thing, but also want to include that I feel like we’re playing differently than we were. We’re playing better as a team offensively and defensively, just getting contributions from everybody on our team. That wasn’t always happening before, but when we were able to get those contributions from everybody and do the things that we do, we’re a better team.

BRYCE BROWN: Say your question one more time.

Q. The fact you guys know each other so well.

BRYCE BROWN: I feel like both teams will be more prepared than the previous teams we face. We kind of know what they like to do. They know what we like to do. We know their tendencies and same with them. Going to come down to who is playing the hardest and making shots and who is defending.

THE MODERATOR: Anything else for the student-athletes of Auburn?

Q. Jared, your matchup with Ashton Hagans, what do you remember from the first two games and what do you have to do to keep him under control?

JARED HARPER: First of all, he’s a great player. He’s a great defensive player, does a good job of running their team. I don’t know if it’s just -- it’s going to be personally me against Ashton. That’s not what I’m looking to. I don’t think that’s what our team is looking to. I’m thinking more of Auburn against Kentucky. It’s a team game. Going to take a team effort to stop him and stop all the great players that they have.

Q. You guys have hit so many 3-pointers, coach gives you so much freedom to shoot. Is there such a thing as a bad 3-point shot for you guys? (Laughter)

THE MODERATOR: Bryce and Jared, please.

BRUCE PEARL: And Horace.

HORACE SPENCER: I knew you were going to say that.

BRYCE BROWN: Coach gives us a lot of confidence. He wants us to feel free out there. He typically doesn’t mind the type of shots we take unless they’re in the rhythm of the offense, not just jacking up crazy shots. Definitely he likes to us take shots within the offense and feel like that’s kind of it, you know.

JARED HARPER: Yeah, there is such a thing as a bad 3. But BP as a coach doesn’t get on us about bad shots. He’ll get on what you do not making plays defensively. That’s definitely a focus. That’s what he gets on us.

HORACE SPENCER: I got a note from coach. He says, “You open, shoot it. If you’re not open, don’t shoot it.” I’m open, I’m going to shoot it. (Laughter)

Q. This is for everybody. They’re running out of toilet paper in Auburn with all these wins. What’s it like being the players, looking back and seeing the campus celebrate victory after victory in the last two weeks?

THE MODERATOR: Horace, lead us off and we’ll come left.

HORACE SPENCER: It feels good. It’s bigger than basketball for us. Really just doing it for Auburn, because Auburn hasn’t had a really winning historic program in basketball. Just to see how our fans are reacting to us, all love. We’re not there to really physically experience it. It really feels good to see all the happy faces, all the smiles that we’re bringing to Auburn. It feels good that we’re making this history as a family. Auburn is a family. Auburn family is the thing. If you see it or not, you got to be there to believe it. And I’ve been there for four years. I really experienced it and really feel that every win we get it adds on.

HORACE SPENCER: When we got back from SEC, probably my first time really seeing rolling the corner personally. It was really fun.

MALIK DUNBAR: It’s the same thing. It’s just a blessing. I’m thankful for all the fans we have. Everybody want to see us win and all the support, the fans coming over here to watch us play. I’m appreciative and thankful.

ANFERNEE MCLEMORE: It’s great to be supported by the Auburn family. They found -- they watched. Coach Pearl has changed the narrative from a losing program to a winning organization. It’s just great to go home and be supported by everybody just waiting outside for us. Just feels good.

JARED HARPER: Getting the support that we’re getting from the Auburn community and just be able to do what we’re able to do, continue to make history, continue to be inspiration for kids and people that are younger than us. It’s a blessing.BRYCE BROWN: Same thing. Honor to be able to represent Auburn. At the end of the day, our job is to represent Auburn the best we can anytime we’re on the court or off the court. So, you know, just feels good that we have such a huge fan base. The student body, you know, people all over Auburn just always supporting us.I feel like the love is really real. It’s not fake at all. You see all the people supporting us on social media. You got to thank the football team, women’s basketball, soccer. They’re all supporting us, and we definitely feel the love.

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, great job. We’re going to dismiss you now to go to breakout sessions. Congratulations in getting this far. Good luck tomorrow. We’re going to stay here with Coach Pearl for awhile longer.

Q. Bruce, how do you feel about the game boiling down to your team’s 3-point shooting perimeter game against Kentucky’s power game?

BRUCE PEARL: We got to be able to make some 3s in order to win. We’ve got to be able to somehow limit Kentucky’s points in the paint and their domination on the offensive glass.Through much of the season, we’ve been a team that went as Jared and Bryce went. But in the month of March, it’s been a team where even if one or both didn’t have a great half or a great game, we could still win. And that’s -- that’s a sign of a team that’s -- the sum of its parts are bigger than anything else. We play best when everybody contributes. And so I think for us to be able to have a chance against Kentucky, we’ll have to have other guys other than just Jared and Bryce play well.

Q. Bruce, you have 9, 10 guys who can contribute in post-season. It seems like this league itself, aside from Kentucky and maybe a handful of kids that get ID’d by USA Basketball, lot of kids who are under the radar grow into starring roles. I’m wondering how that happens? Are we just missing the boat with the southern player who might not get the amount of publicity?

BRUCE PEARL: That’s a great question, Dick. You know, summer basketball, call it AAU basketball, call it whatever you want to call it, gets a bad rap for everything. On Zion Williamson’s team, there was some other players that were pretty good, and they’re sprinkled throughout college basketball. You know, I saw Jared and Udoka, he was one of the Georgia stars. Udoka was his big guy. Wendell Carter was this other big guy. And there were a handful of other players, and then there was Jared as that point guard.And so I just think that there’s so much more parity in college basketball, because there are more good teams both in high school and in the summer where these other guys are also training at a higher level than maybe back in the day. Back in the day it was clear who your first team Allstate guys were and all your US A basketball guys, but there’s just now more to choose from. So,that’s why I think -- we’re not really missing them. You still got -- still the tale of the tape. The guys with the big names and reputations, the big schools -- when you see Kentucky take the floor against Auburn tomorrow, you’ll see a difference in the tale of the tape. We’ll be looking up to them at most positions. That’s why those guys play in McDonald’s game and our guys don’t.

Q. Bruce, how would you characterize your relationship with John Calipari, and has it changed much over the years from when he was at Memphis and you were at Tennessee?

BRUCE PEARL: Well, the first time I can remember really having much of a relationship with John, it was when he first got the UMASS job, and he had some guys on his staff that I had coached at Boston College and we had some people that we both knew. And I said it because I grew up in Boston that what he did at UMASS might have been one of the all time greatest jobs in the history of college basketball. They weren’t much before he got there. They were a Final Four team when he was there. And after he left, obviously not been the. So, got great respect for Coach Calipari. When he was at Memphis, I was at Tennessee and, you know, Memphis while it was a basketball powerhouse was in the State of Tennessee and sometimes got overshadowed. Believe it or not, I was at the big school and he was at the smaller school and playing in Conference USA versus the SEC, so constantly looking for trying to be able -- he was the underdog in that regard.We had some great battles. I would just say this: I think as far as a relationship is involved, I’ve grown to respect him and appreciate the job that he does. I value the times that I’ve been able to beat him, and I recognize there’s probably not a coach that’s beaten me more than him.

Q. You look at Kentucky, they don’t have a Wall and Cousins or Davis or Karl Anthony Towns. What do you see when you look at this team as opposed to some of the other teams he’s had at Kentucky?

BRUCE PEARL: Well, PJ Washington very easily could have been the National Player of the Year if Kentucky had won one or two more games. I mean, there was a time when he was -- Grant Williams a great player for National SEC Player of the Year. If Kentucky had won our league, I would have thought that PJ would have gotten it, should have gotten it.He’s a dominating player. Great story of a guy that you know would have gotten drafted a year ago, but probably would have gotten in the second round and decided to come back. Wasn’t afraid to work. He’s so much better now, explosive inside, outside game. He was the only player Chuma Okeke faced all year long that maybe got the edge on him, the only player. So, I still see -- I’ll tell you what I see about Kentucky, and I don’t mind saying this: John has been a master of taking incredibly talented kids who maybe had -- because they were so talented, think in an individual way, he had a job to blend that team in his locker room, egos, different things like that.Keldon Johnson cares about winning. So does Ashton Hagans, so does PJ. That whole team has bought into one thing, and that’s winning. He’s got kids that care less about themselves and more about the team. He’s probably enjoyed coaching this team more. And I think this team has been blessed more because of the way they played, how hard they played. They bought in defensively, they play unselfishly, play the game the right way.He hasn’t had to change. That MO came in in recruiting. I know because I was probably the first guy to offer everyone of those guys that I just told you about and lost of every single one of them to Kentucky.

Q. On this team?BRUCE PEARL: Keldon Johnson, Ashton Hagans, EJ Montgomery, are all guys I’ve known and recruited at one time or another had committed.

Q. Have you let yourself think just the historic magnitude significance of what beating Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky to go to a Final Four, what that would say?

BRUCE PEARL: I’ve certainly put that on the table for our team. And when we got our road to the Final Four, I told them what are we trying to do, guys? We’re trying to make history. That’s what the whole thing about Auburn. You heard that from these kids how important it was to them to have Auburn basketball become credible. New Mexico State was as good a 12 as there was in the field, and we’re the only one to survive that 5, 12 matchup. To have an opportunity to get Kansas, North Carolina, and maybe Kentucky, what a better way of having an opportunity to make history than to have that road to the Final Four. So, we started talking about that as soon as the field came out. I think you’ve got to as a coach be able to show them a path to success. And so it’s not looking past anybody, this is what it is, this is what we got to get through. What an incredible opportunity to go out there and make history. Of all the matchups we’ve had, Kentucky will be the most difficult matchup. They’re the most physical team in college basketball offensively and defensively. They out rebounded us by 19 last time we played. Travis wasn’t playing. We’re going to subtract Chuma. We lost by 27 when we had Chuma and they didn’t have them. It’s a tough matchup for us.Obviously these guys see and I see things that we can do to be able to put ourselves in position to win the basketball game. It’s going to take our best effort, without question.

Q. Bruce, your players talked about the freedom you give them to shoot from the outside. Obviously teams shoot more 3s these days than they did 10, 20 years ago. Has your feelings on that style of play evolved over the years during your career?

BRUCE PEARL: No. I think I’ve always been accused of living by it and dying by it. Never quite understood what that meant. My teams have always either led the league in 3-point shooting, makes, and percentage over the years. Look, there’s a lot of contact in the game. What percentage should you shoot from the free throw line? It’s an open shot whether it’s contested or not. There’s no contact. We don’t shoot 3 balls where there’s contact. We’re shooting a shot where we’re looking at the rim, we got the ball in our hands, and if we can do some things schematically to get them open with a late hand, what percentage should a good player be able to shoot that? I don’t know why you wouldn’t work and hunt for those shots. So, I’ve always believed it. Just because the Golden State Warriors figured it out, don’t blame me. I’ve always shot the 3-ball. So, it’s been a big part of our offense. It helps spread the floor. You know, just open the lane up a little bit. If they got to guard you out there further, Kentucky is able to guard us. Why? Because they’re long and athletic. That hand gets there faster, quicker, longer than most. But I do believe the fact that it’s a non-contact shot doesn’t get nearly enough conversation.We try to force people defensively to make tough 2s. That’s what -- that’s what we try to force. So therefore, why would I create an offense that gives you a bunch of tough 2s? The inside 3-point shot is the best play in basketball. The open 3-point shot behind the line is the second best play in basketball.

Q. Bruce, when they beat you guys in Auburn, you went into a little bit of a tailspin, lost three in a row. Then played in Lexington and they really handed it to you. Logically you should have gone into a bigger tailspin. Instead, you haven’t lost of since. Why did you make that reverse?

BRUCE PEARL: Our guys recognize how well Kentucky played. And our hats were off to them. We went into that game in Lexington thinking we had a chance. I told our guys, listen, I brought teams in here before, no chance to win. It was just a matter of how badly we were going to get beat. Not this team. I think we’ve got a chance to compete. We were dominated, completely outplayed, but Kentucky played really well. We weren’t awful, but they were great. So, I left the game and I wanted our guys not to beat themselves up. That’s a Final Four team guys. That’s what it looks like right there. This is the gap between us and them, 27 points right now. What do we need to do to close the gap? I wasn’t mad at them. We got hit in the mouth and we got beat up. But we didn’t let it define us.

Q. Bruce, when you left here last night, there was some uncertainty of Chuma’s injury, could you take us through what you learned and how you decided to present the team with the news?

BRUCE PEARL: Chuma came in at breakfast this morning after the guys had finished up. I think we all knew it was serious last night. I think the minute Chuma hit the floor and started pounding his fist on the ground, that was no sprain. I think the reaction from all the guys is really unfair because he’s such a great kid and such a hard worker, so humble, but he’s got a big dream. Players like Chuma give teams courage and confidence. We’re going to miss him tomorrow because we’re going to be -- we’re going to have tough matchups. We lost every single matchup we had against Kentucky in Lexington, everyone from the bench to the players.But Chuma always give us a chance to win that matchup. So now he’s going to be out for awhile. He’s got to rehab and that’s what God’s plan was. He’s going to handle it. But we’re all sad and heartbroken for him. There was no celebrating in our locker room last night because of his injury. At the same time, there’s no time to celebrate. We’re looking at a tip in about 20 hours against probably the best team in the country right now.

Q. Bruce, from when you had him as a recruit to the two games you played to now, how have you seen EJ Montgomery grow and what can his potential still be?

BRUCE PEARL: After the game in Lexington, I gave John and his staff great credit that players do develop at Kentucky. I’ve seen EJ grow. He’s gotten bigger, stronger, tougher. Even though he plays sometimes a limited role in limited minutes, I think John has given him confidence to go to his strengths and not be afraid to fail. I think John recognizes the upside that EJ has. So because -- he’s gotten so much stronger physically. I think that’s been a big part of his -- when you see him a year from now, you’ll see he’s a special passer. Got a great future.

Q. For years it was always Kentucky and everybody else in the SEC. Last few years, you know, you guys and Tennessee regular season champs, LSU, you guys won the SEC Tournament. Is that gap shrinking?

BRUCE PEARL: I don’t know if it’s shrinking. I remember telling Commissioner Slive when I got to Tennessee what I felt made the ACC what it. Wasn’t just North Carolina and Duke. It was Gary Williams at Maryland, Skip at Wake Forest. It was when Paul had it going or Georgia Tech had it going. Bobby had it going at Georgia Tech. It was the depth and breadth of the conference that made the ACC so dominant. When I got to Tennessee, Billy was at Florida, Kentucky was Kentucky, and the rest of us were grasping for who is going to be the next team.That’s not a great conference. Our conference was tremendous this year, top to bottom. Great coaches, fan bases were engaged, recruiting has improved. It’s continuing to -- and why not? Because if you look at the SEC, it’s what we do in everything else. It’s not even close. I’m talking about all sports’ men and women. It’s incredible. So, about last night in Kansas City when the SEC chant came out there. That wasn’t just Auburn fans chanting that. That was Kentucky fans. Maybe they’d rather play us than North Carolina, I can understand that. I want to go on the record with something. I wasn’t recruited by North Carolina, Kansas, or Kentucky, either. I want -- none of you guys asked me that question. I want to go on record and say that. I’m a mutt too.

Q. John Calipari said that when you lose one of your best players, it’s going to be very, very difficult for you to advance in the tournament. Obviously he was talking about PJ Washington. But John is a smart guy. You’re in that position now. So did you maybe think about forfeiting the game or how realistically can you prepare in just this short time?

BRUCE PEARL: Listen, we’ve got nine players that are going to play tomorrow, and we’re going to have to make some adjustments to how we play and what we do. But our guys are ready to be able to accept that challenge. We understand the enormity of the challenge, even if our roster was full and complete. So when you lose, as Jared said, our most valuable player and for me the guy that I would play call to matchup, it’s going to be an enormous challenge, but our guys are excited about it.Listen, they understand how good Kentucky is and they understand what it’s going to take. There’s confidence in our locker room. Horace Spencer, Anfernee McLemor, Danjel Purifoy, Austin Wiley, that’s our front line without Chuma. Those guys are all ready to step up. They’re going to have to step up or we won’t be able to win.

Q. So I’ve heard a rumor that your team is a little bit superstitious about your pre-game meals and you have a particular steakhouse that you go to before. If you tell me a little bit how that started and how you guys found “Dan Den” in Kansas City?

BRUCE PEARL: When we kind -- Hibatchi style Japanese steakhouses. That’s what it is. It’s called Mikata in Auburn. I was there the other day, as a matter of fact, and one of the servers -- it’s dinner and a show of course. Of course our guys love the show as much as they love the dinner. It’s double everything. Double rice, double meat, double this, double, double because they want to eat it and they want to take it home, right. I’m not sure that’s an extra benefit or not, but maybe it is.But we are undefeated eating at a Japanese steakhouse out the night before the game. Tonight we’ll be eating some place in Kansas City.

Q. Both the times you played Kentucky were on the road. You didn’t eat at the steakhouse before that?

BRUCE PEARL: We played Kentucky and we ate someplace else the night before.

Q. Do you remember where it was?

BRUCE PEARL: We played Kentucky we ate in the hotel.

Q. Bruce, you were really complimentary of Kentucky after the January game. I think you said that’s a championship-type team. What specifically did you see then and maybe how have you seen it evolve over the next two months?

BRUCE PEARL: Well, I think Kentucky is confident right now because they learned to play without PJ and they learned to play without Travis and yet they still were able to advance. And I just think they’ve got -- we’re playing better now, but so are they. They obviously know it.I was just impressed with their team. I was telling people buy Kentucky early on in the season. I’ve seen them play. I know how physical they are. They play the game the right way. Look, defensive rebounding wins championships. It’s probably the best defensive and rebounding team in the country. Last night’s game against Houston was as physical and tough a game as you would -- strength on strength. So, you know, for me personally, it was a little easier going up against a Kansas or North Carolina who don’t see me all the time. John has seen me for many, many years. And every now and then, you know, when you are not -- we’re talented, but when you may not be quite as talented, you have to have some things up your sleeve. I’ve played a lot of cards. I don’t know how many more cards we have to play, but these guys believe. They know what we need to do to have a chance to win. I’ve got one more thing. I’d prefer to be playing somebody else other than the SEC. But one of the things I am glad is the SEC is going to have a team in the Final Four and I’m really glad about that, because this league has worked really hard to get better and gain some respect, and in the game of college basketball I’m glad Auburn is a small part of that.

Nathan King | Sports Editor

Nathan King, senior in journalism with a minor in business, is The Plainsman's sports editor.

Share and discuss “Everything Auburn players, Bruce Pearl said about Chuma Okeke's injury, Kentucky matchup” on social media.