Bruce Pearl asked Kevin Steele, "What makes (Auburn football's) defense so unique? What makes it so special?"
Deflecting all the credit away from himself — noting that it's not about his formations, sets, lineups or defensive packages — Steele responded: "We're going to pursue the ball relentlessly."
That exchange between Pearl, Auburn's men's basketball head coach, and Steele, Auburn football's defensive coordinator, whom Pearl called "the best coordinator in college football," came sometime in the past few months.
Pearl said after Auburn won its first SEC Tournament championship in 34 years Sunday that he had spent time with Steele in the offseason to inquire about Auburn football's defense.
Pearl drew a number of similarities between his hoops squad and Steele's gridiron guys. After all, both love forcing turnovers.
"We've begun to take that approach to our defense," Pearl said of Steele's advice. "We are undersized. I mean, Deshaun Davis is undersized, right? And he's going to pursue the ball relentlessly. And you're either going to play (Davis), or you're going to play against him in the NFL."
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Davis, a former All-SEC linebacker for the Tigers, was humbled by the notion that his play inspired one of the best tournament runs in Auburn basketball history.
Pearl's Tigers turned Steele's philosophy into one of the best stretches of defensive performances in SEC history. While the flashy 3-point shooting was getting all the attention, Auburn forced 68 combined turnovers in its SEC Tournament run, including 17 in its upset of 3-seed Tennessee in the finals.
With 10 minutes to play, Tennessee had more turnovers (16) than made baskets (15), and Auburn as a team compiled 14 steals for the game, including 10 in the first half. The Auburn defense also held Vols All-SEC guard Admiral Schofield to a season-low in points with four.
"That's the way Auburn (football) plays, and that's the way our defense has started to play," Pearl said. "That's partly responsible for this March run."
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