The Sharife Cooper era at Auburn has begun, and while Auburn may still be looking for its first conference win, Cooper’s first collegiate game has his head coach excited.
“We’re better offensively with Sharife, there’s no question about it,” head coach Bruce Pearl said. “He’s a difference maker.”
Cooper’s explosion onto the college basketball scene was eye-catching. The freshman posted 26 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists. But late errors down the stretch by Cooper and the rest of the Auburn team saw their lead to Alabama disappear and the Tiger’s dropped their fourth straight conference game.
The Tigers are in for another challenge against Georgia on Wednesday, a team also looking for its first conference win. But Pearl doesn’t want the wins and losses to be deceiving. Georgia’s offense utilizes the 10th-fastest pace in the country and transition defense has been hurting the Tigers all season.
“They've got six guys that average double digits in scoring, so they've got really good balance,” Pearl said. “(Sahvir) Wheeler is a tremendous point guard. He's powerful, fast. You've got to game plan all around him. They're great in transition.”
Pearl said one of his team’s biggest struggles this season is transition defense. Bad shot selection, and then not dropping back to defend, has had the Tigers giving up easy points all year. Georgia, aided by their pace of play, thrives off running the ball up the court following a rebound and scoring on a team who isn’t set defensively.
“It's one of Georgia's strengths. One of things they do really, really well. So that's a real challenge for us,” Pearl said.
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While Cooper’s offense may be his strength, the young point guard needs to help out more on defense Pearl said. The whole country knows Auburn wants to take threes, but what follows a missed three is going to be critical for Auburn to win games.
“The things that are ailing us, whether it's 50-50 balls, defensive rebounds, ending possessions, physical play, which I think is a big part of what's ailing us, he doesn't bring that,” Pearl said. “So those are the things that affect winning. We need everybody else and Sharife to bring that in order for us to win.”
For the third-straight game, Auburn will be without the services of Justin Powell. Powell returned to practice on Monday but he was ruled out of Wednesday's contest.
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