Auburn (11-12, 5-9 in SEC) will be looking to get back in the win column on Tuesday when they host Florida (11-6, 7-5 in SEC) at home.
Auburn basketball has lost five of its last six games, with the most recent being a 24-point loss to LSU in Baton Rouge on Saturday. Despite scoring 80-points in the contest and a 26-point performance by Sharife Cooper, the Tigers never regained the lead after trailing just 5 minutes after tipoff.
“I think my own personal disappointment, I thought we had a really good plan," said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. "I thought that even though what they did defensively we hadn’t seen before, I thought we had some nice slips and some really good looks. We got some of them executed, but not enough. We scored 80 points, so that wasn’t the problem. The problem was once again defensively.”
When Auburn visited Florida last season, the Tigers scored only 47 points in the loss. Pearl understands that Florida's defense will once again present a challenge.
"This year’s team, they shoot the ball really well, they lead the league in field goal percentage, and they are really solid defensively," Pearl said. "They’ll play man, they’ll play a number of different zones, they’ll make a young team think and have to respond because they change things up a lot, so that’ll be a bit of a challenge for us.”
Florida is coming off a 70-63 win over Georgia in Gainesville, Florida, on Saturday. The Gators had a 13-day stretch in early February where they had 3 SEC games postponed because of COVID-19 concerns.
Despite missing those games, the Gators are 7-5 in league play with wins over LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Georgia.
For the Tigers, defense will be a priority in the matchup with eyes on sophomore guard Tre Mann and junior power forward Colin Castleton. Mann is a former 5-star recruit and 2019 McDonald’s All-American who is averaging 14.1 points per game, while Castleton has two SEC Player of the Week honors under his belt already this season.
Pearl sees similarities in defensive struggles between this team and Auburn's 2016-2017 team and feels the limited amount of spring workouts have been an issue.
“I see a lot of similarities, I do," Pearl said. "That team struggled in transition defense. That team struggled with the foul line more than this team has. That team struggled with toughness and physicality because, like this team, they were young also. One of the things that’s very interesting, 2 years ago, we went to the Final Four. We came back from the Final Four, and we were in our last week of spring, so we didn’t really have any spring workouts. Last year we were done March 11th, and we had no spring workouts."
This year, the Tigers will undergo spring workouts earlier in the offseason than seasons prior because of the self-imposed postseason ban.
"This year, we’re going to have 5 weeks of spring workouts," Pearl said. "That’s heavy lifting, that’s heavy individual development, so for the last 2 years because of the Final Four and because of COVID, we really missed that window. So, I’m hoping that we are going to be able to take full advantage of that this spring and I think that’ll go a long way curing some of the things that are ailing us right now as a team.”
Auburn will host Florida at 6 p.m. CST on Tuesday in Auburn Arena. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN.
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Larry is a senior studying journalism with a minor in sociology. He is from Enterprise, Alabama and is in his third year with The Auburn Plainsman.