NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After not playing in a game since February 23 when he suffered another lower leg injury, Austin Wiley made his return to help Auburn in its 73-64 win over South Carolina.
Wiley, who did not dress out for the remaining four games of Auburn’s regular season, dressed and warmed up for Auburn’s second round game against Missouri but did not see any action.
Bruce Pearl revealed that Wiley was able to go into the game in desperation but ultimately, Wiley was not fully healthy, and he was getting closer to returning.
"Austin had his first contact practice this week,” Pearl said. “He's getting closer.”
Sooner came rather than later for Wiley as about half way through the first half of Auburn’s quarterfinal matchup against South Carolina, starting center Anfernee McLemore picked up his second foul and needed to be taken out of the game.
Wiley’s return would come against Chris Silva who has been Auburn’s kryptonite in both matchups this season.
But never one to back away from a challenge, Wiley went right at Silva and held his own in the paint against the first-team All-SEC big man on the defensive end, posting him up on the other end before hitting a mini-hook shot for his first points in almost a month.
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“His athleticism was back, he has his legs under him, he’s feeling confident of his work he’s doing on the court and in practice,” said senior guard Bryce Brown. “He’s ready, if you ask me. He’s ready.”
Wiley’s day would end shortly after that with his final stat line ending with him playing only three minutes and scoring two points.
“We were in deep foul trouble,” Pearl said. “I didn’t want to get in any deeper foul trouble. Austin has had a contact practice this week. He did great. He is not ready from the standpoint of able to perform, but he is not injured. So, it’s really hard to have him out there and expect a ton from him. He’s a great teammate. He wants to help his team. He’s a part of it … Austin is able, as we said, getting closer and closer.”
Despite only being out there for three minutes, Wiley was just happy to be back out there and contribute for the team and even says he's "100 percent."
“It was exciting,” Wiley said. “I’ve been working toward that goal just to get back in playing mode. Whenever my team needs me, I’m there for it. Whether that be 15, five, three, it don’t matter how many minutes.”
With Wiley back playing, the possibility of easing Wiley back into the lineup is something Pearl is trying to figure out.
“To try [easing Wiley into the lineup] like I did during part of the season to put him in for 10 (minutes), to give him 11, it would have meant less Horace Spencer,” Pearl said. “That probably wouldn’t have been a good thing.”
With Florida on the horizon in the conference semifinals it is uncertain if Wiley will see much more action than he did against South Carolina. The fact being that Florida is a lot more a perimeter-oriented team than South Carolina is, so the possibility of McLemore or Horace Spencer getting into foul trouble is unlikely.
“They are hard to guard,” Pearl said. “They’re a dangerous team, too, because they spread it.”
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