Auburn basketball fell to Kentucky Saturday in a game that resulted in an 82-80 score. Despite the loss, the Tigers proved that they belong among college basketball's top programs. The Tigers trailed by 17 points at one point in the game, but managed to fight their way back to gain the lead with 30 seconds left.
The Tigers resilience shown in Saturday's game was symbolic to the Tigers climbing over the hump of mediocrity. The Tigers of old would have simply laid down and let the game get out of hand. As we have seen with the Tigers this year, that is not the case anymore.
In the Tigers games this year against college basketball's bluebloods, Duke and Kentucky, the Tigers held their own in both games with ample opportunities to win both of those matchups. Auburn has went against some of the best teams nationally and have two single-digit losses to show for it.
The team now believes that it truly belongs at the top, as can be seen symbolically through the effort shown Saturday. The intensity of the team and head coach Bruce Pearl is apparent. As well as the team's acceptance of this role, the fans have also bought in to the notion of the Tigers as a top basketball program. Saturday's matchup was a sold out crowd of over 9,100 on hand. Fans are coming to the games and providing an electric atmosphere throughout, much like other venues of top programs.
The hype around Auburn's basketball program has been through the roof since the arrival of Bruce Pearl and his teams have lived up to the hype. Pearl has recruited well and brought in quality players that have helped the Tigers transition to this newfound height. Senior shooting guard Bryce Brown lead the Tigers in scoring on Saturday with 28 points. Twenty-five of Brown's 28 points came in the second half and was a crucial component to the Tigers' comeback. Jared Harper also notched 17 points in the loss with an opportunity to win the game with three seconds remaining, that ultimately fell short.
Have the Tigers reached the top of the mountain? Not necessarily, but the Tigers have put the nation on notice that they are a top program and intend to continuously improve. The Tigers showings against Duke and Kentucky have shown that they have taken the next step to be in the conversation with top teams, but are knocking on the door of elite status and championship aspirations.