Looking to extend its six-game winning streak, No. 11 Auburn hosts in-state rival Alabama Wednesday night inside Auburn Arena.
After Saturday’s thrilling, overtime victory over then-No. 18 LSU, Auburn (21-2, 8-2 SEC) moved into first place in the Southeastern Conference and clinched its third consecutive 21-win season for the first time in program history.
“The will to win,” Tigers’ starting center Austin Wiley said Tuesday of what the key has been for Auburn’s six-game winning streak. “We’ve played three overtime games in our last three games so just sticking in there and staying together, and not letting the crowd or the score knock us off our game.
“…We're resilient, we never give up. Kinda how we felt at the end of last year, how we kept playing hard no matter how much we got down and clicking in all areas. ... We're starting to feel like that now."
Wiley, who is a Birmingham native and has grown up within the rivalry, said that Wednesday’s game versus Alabama (13-10, 5-5) isn’t any different. It’s just another game. The Crimson Tide handed the unbeaten and then-No.4 ranked Tigers their first loss of the season back in January, blowing them out 83-64 inside Coleman Coliseum.
“We’re very excited,” Wiley said. “We try to be excited to play every opponent. We’re not going to look at the last game, we’re just going to go into this game with a new mindset and just take care of business.”
Saturday’s win over LSU was the third time in the last four games that the Tigers erased a double-digit lead in the second half. They came back from 19 down at Ole Miss, 11 down at Arkansas, and they were down by as many as 15 to the Bayou Bengals before coming back to win 91-90. All three were decided in overtime.
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“We don’t make any sense statistically,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said Tuesday. “We don’t excel in a lot of areas. We do a good job of getting to the line, we do a good job of rebounding the basketball and we do a good job of obviously staying in games and competing and playing throughout… I continue to say if we don’t get better, we’re going to start losing. Certainly, the last couple of games we played in overtime could have been loses, and we could have been sitting here at 6-4 instead of 8-2 [in the SEC].”
Alabama, like Auburn, is also coming off an overtime victory. The Crimson Tide traveled to Georgia and walked away with a 105-102 overtime victory Saturday that put them back at .500 in conference play ahead of the Iron Bowl rematch tomorrow.
“They've get a couple of big wins here down the stretch and they can be right back in the conversation of being one of the teams in the tournament,” Pearl said. “I know they're going to come in here fighting for their lives because there just aren't that many games left. There are a few, but we're obviously one of them. There is a lot at stake for both teams.”
The Tide enter Wednesday night’s contest leading the SEC, and ranking No. 3 in the country, in scoring offense averaging 82.6 points per game. They are also No. 7 in 3-point field goals made per game at 10.2, leading the league in both categories.
“They’re a really good team,” Pearl said. “They were picked fifth in the league in the preseason and they’ve got a lot of veterans. The backcourt of Kira Lewis and John Petty, they’re two of the top 10 scorers in the league… They’re really good and they’re really fast.”
Either Lewis or Petty lead the team in all three major categories. Lewis is leading the team in both scoring and assists, with 17.4 points per game and 4.7 assists per game. Petty, who is also averaging just over 15 a game and shooting almost 50% from the field, leads the team on the glass, grabbing 7.3 rebounds per game.
Both teams likely will be without key starters Wednesday night that were a part of the first meeting on Jan. 15. Alabama head coach Nate Oates will be without forward Herb Jones, as he had wrist surgery on Feb. 1 and Pearl mentioned in his press conference Tuesday that Danjel Purifoy, who missed Saturday's game vs. LSU with the flu, hasn't returned to practice yet.
He said the illness “took a heavy toll on him” and he isn’t sure how much the senior will play, if he plays at all.
In Auburn’s blowout loss at Alabama, the Tigers turned the ball over 21 times, sent the Tide to the free-throw line 37 times and shot just 7 of 28 from the 3-point line. Auburn’s leading scorer, Samir Doughty, also had one of his worst performances of the season, failing to score for nearly the first 23 minutes and wound up fouling out.
Doughty finished that contest with six points on 2-of-11 shooting with six turnovers. Pearl knows Wednesday will have to be different.
“They say it's all about matchups and the last time we matched up, we got pounded.”
Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. CST inside Auburn Arena and will be televised on ESPN2.
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