After consecutive victories against Georgia and Kentucky, Auburn basketball looks to make it three-straight SEC wins when they face Arkansas on Wednesday. The Tigers fell earlier this season at home to the Razorbacks, 97-85.
“Obviously, it’s an important game for both teams,” said head coach Bruce Pearl. “I think [Arkansas] is really good. They’re much better at home.”
Auburn will make the flight to Fayetteville to face the Razorbacks on their home court for the final regular-season contest between the two. At home, Arkansas is 9-1 this season, with the lone loss to then-ranked No. 12 Missouri, 81-68.
Despite making 15 3-point shots in the first matchup of the season, it was not enough for Auburn to overcome Arkansas.
“We wasted 15 3s,” Pearl said. “When you make 15 3s, you better win the game. So that was unfortunate at our place. But we’re playing better.”
A large contribution to Auburn’s increase in play is freshman point guard Sharife Cooper. Cooper was still ineligible to play when the two schools met earlier this season. Since making his debut, Cooper has nearly averaged a double-double, with 21.7 points and 9.7 assists per game.
“There are some things that we would have done better with him for sure,” Pearl said. “[Arkansas] has a game plan and how they’re going to guard him.”
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Since Cooper rejoined the team for practice and games after his NCAA eligibility ruling, the Tigers are 2-1. The only loss was a four-point loss at home to league-leading Alabama.
“It would be like playing football without your quarterback,” Pearl said. “We’re better. We’re better with our quarterback. He makes everybody better, he is a pass-first, unselfish, high IQ point guard. One of the best point guards in the league.”
Pearl gave an update on one of Auburn’s other freshman stars, Justin Powell, who went down with a head injury against Texas A&M. Powell is still day-to-day with a concussion and it’s unclear if he will make the trip to Fayetteville.
“We’ve won a few games, so we’re happier,” Pearl said. “I’m just happy for the kids. Losing wears you out, no matter how much we were prepared to have a developmental season. And we still are. We are the youngest team in the country to play a game this year. The attitude is good, and we feel good that we’re playing better. Is it good enough to keep winning? We’ll find out.”
Tip-off for the late game on Wednesday is set for 8 p.m. CST. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network.
“This would be our best win if we could get it,” Pearl said. “Against an NCAA Tournament team on the road, that’s what this is. We can’t make too many mistakes.”
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