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Monday, Sep 25, 2023 | Latest Print Edition

Virginia coaches asking former Alabama player Braxton Key for tips against Auburn

<p>Braxton Key (2) via UVA Athletics and</p>

Braxton Key (2) via UVA Athletics and

MINNEAPOLIS — When Braxton Key transferred to Virginia for his junior season, he didn't expect to have a date set up with Auburn for the fifth time in his career.

Key played two years in Tuscaloosa as a consistent fixture for coach Avery Johnson's team before leaving the Tide and gaining immediate eligibility for his junior season at Virginia.

Now, his teammates and coaches are soliciting advice on how to slow down Bruce Pearl's Tigers amid their nation-leading 12-game winning streak, first 30-win season and Final Four appearance in program history.

"A lot of coaches have been asking me a lot of questions about certain players and what they like to do — tendencies and stuff," Key said. "I'm trying to go off of stuff from last year. How fast they play — they thrive off turnovers... Some things on how they run their defense."

Key has Virginia's only first-hand experience against Auburn, which the Tigers' hated rival realizes, too.

"It's going to be funny seeing those guys I played against for two years," Key said. "I've got a lot of texts from former teammates and former fans. (Alabama fans) don't want to see Auburn make the championship, so we're going to do our best to make it happen.

"They came back to Team Braxton. We'll see how long that wave lasts."

Key said Virginia's coaches have primarily asked him about slowing down the Auburn offense, which ranks first in the nation in 3-point makes this season. Conversely, Virginia posts an impressive stoppage rate from beyond the arc, holding teams to 28 percent shooting there.

"I think it will be the best team we've faced that shoots the 3 all year, honestly," Key said. "Bryce, Jared, lots of guys shoot the ball very well. We're going to try to stay in the (defense) and not giving up open 3s, obviously. But you also don't want to give up driving lanes. It'll be very difficult, but we're ready for the challenge."

Head coach Tony Bennett and his staff are also looking for ways to keep the speedy Tigers out of their transition game, where they've been thriving all year.

"We've got to get two guys back on a shot to stop the layup," Key said. "But they also shoot 3s in transition, so that's very different guarding. You can't run back to the paint, run back to the (defense) and expect your man to be there. He might be lining up for an NBA 3."

Top-seeded Virginia takes on 5-seed Auburn at 5:09 p.m. CST on Saturday inside U.S. Bank Stadium.

Nathan King | Sports Editor

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

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