Just two weeks ago, a top-ten Auburn team went to Tuscaloosa looking to knock off their arch rival. Instead, they found themselves down 14 points at halftime and fighting to make it a game. They found success in the second half, but in the end, they came up just short against the Tide.
Now, the two will face off again, this time in Neville Arena, and according to Auburn star forward Johni Broome, “it’s personal.”
Auburn has lost three straight against the Tide—the longest losing streak during Bruce Pearl’s tenure. Johni Broome is also winless against Alabama during his two years on the plains.
If the personal reasons were not enough for this rivalry, the stakes should be. Alabama currently sits atop the SEC with only one loss in conference play. Auburn sits right behind them with two losses. This game starts the second half of SEC games, and with a win, Auburn will put themselves in a tie for first place.
“The Alabama victory means more because it’s a great rivalry,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “We want to win the Iron Bowl; this game matters more to us, the Auburn fans; it matters more to me; and it matters more to my players. We get that. It also matters to the NCAA Tournament selection committee, our seeding, and it also matters to who is going to win the championship.”
So what will it take for the Tigers to break their losing streak and knock off Alabama?
Auburn must be more efficient offensively this time around if they want to knock off the Tide. The Tigers shot just 42% in the first meeting and only 20% from three-point range. Against one of the best-scoring teams in college basketball, those numbers will not work. Along with poor shooting, Auburn also turned it over nine times in the first half alone. Making shots is hard enough; not getting a shot up is even worse.
While the offense must improve, Auburn’s defense found success in the second half of the first game. Alabama got off to a fast start, led by guard Rylan Griffen, but Auburn settled in after halftime. They forced Alabama to take tough shots and stopped them from getting easy baskets at the rim. Altogether, Auburn held Alabama to only 29% shooting from the field in the second half.
“You have to make sure their shots are contested, Pearl said. “They are going to make some and miss some. Sometimes, there’s not much you can do about it.”
There is little doubt that Alabama will catch fire at times, but the key is to limit those runs and hold Alabama to a lower percentage overall. If Auburn can build on their second-half defense from the first game while cleaning up their offense, they will put themselves in a great position to win.
“The guys will be ready,” Pearl said.
The Tigers are certainly determined to break the streak and beat the Tide. In order to do so, though, they will need to be at their best. Can Auburn do it? We will find out Wednesday night. The game will tip at 6:00 p.m. on ESPN2 and the Auburn Sports Network.