Alabama Basketball Ready to Rumble in Auburn Rematch

Christopher Walsh

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The shirt was ripped, up near where the collar would be, as if John Pettty Jr. was trying to have either an Incredible Hunk or Hulk-a-mania moment.

Alabama’s practice wasn’t that rough on Tuesday. Rather, it was the junior wing getting frustrated with himself.

“I was missing too many shots,” he said with a laugh.

Actually, Petty looked like he had already played Wednesday’s game at rival Auburn (6 p.m., ESPN2). There’s obviously no love lost between the two schools as is, but Alabama is expecting nothing short of the most hostile environment imaginable for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama didn’t just win the first meeting between the teams this season, it ended up winning big on Jan. 15. Granted, the game was a lot closer than the 83-64 final score indicated, but it was Auburn’s first loss of season after the Tigers had climbed all the way up to No. 4 in the polls.

Moreover, one loss turned into two as Florida subsequently thumped the Tigers as well, 69-47.

“They’re going to come out pumped,” said sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr., who is coming of his season-high 37 points at Georgia over the weekend.

“You’re going to see one section of red. It’s going to be loud. We just have to go in there and be composed, and get the job done.”

Loud doesn’t seem to cover it. Try foaming at the mouth, especially with the courtside student section at Auburn Arena continually calling for some payback.

“It’s going to be tough,” Petty said.

Although the Crimson Tide will be without junior wing Herbert Jones (wrist) for at least another week, a lot’s riding on the next two games against ranked opponents: No. 11 Auburn and No. 25 LSU at Coleman Coliseum on Saturday.

Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats is telling the team that Alabama (13-10, 5-5 SEC) needs another quality win to make the NCAA Tournament. A win at Auburn would put it back on the right side of the bubble.

Specifically, propelled by its No. 21 strength of schedule, which tops the Southeastern Conference, Alabama is No. 42 in the NET rankings (the results-oriented metric that combines wins, scoring margin, efficiency and the location of games).

So far this season the Crimson Tide is 1-5 against Quadrant 1 teams, the top tier in quality opponents, with potentially three most chances before the SEC Tournament. In addition to playing at Auburn and hosting LSU, it visits Mississippi State on Feb. 25.

However, Auburn is 13-0 at home this season, and Alabama hasn’t won there since the 2014-15 season. The last three games there have all been lost by roughly 20 points (84-63, 90-71 and 84-64).

“They know it’s going to be hard to win there,” Oats said. “Our analytics guys pulled up their splits up, home and away for Auburn. There’s like dramatic splits in the way they play at home versus the way they play on the road. Some of the guys [are] shooting double-digit percentage higher at home.”

Another big concern for Alabama is Auburn’s offensive rebounding. The Tigers average 13.7 per game this season, easily topping the SEC. Senior center Austin Wiley, who grabbed seven in just 20 minutes during the first meeting, is second individually with 75.

Toughness without getting into foul trouble will a key for the Crimson Tide, which could conceivably see some more ripped jerseys for the likes of players like Petty, who leads Alabama in rebounds (7.3).

Yet he’ll be counted on in numerous other ways, including shooting 3-pointers.

“I told the guys that if you’re in a slump, the only way I know how to get out of a slump is to get your butt in the gym and shoot and see the ball go through the net 500 times a day, 1,000 times a day,” Oats said. “I’m guessing he’ll be in the gym this afternoon shooting if he was mad enough to rip his jersey.

“It’s good. When I came in here Reese was shooting, he hasn’t shot it as well as he’s supposed to, and Forbes did earlier this morning. That’s where we have to get the culture so it becomes a habit.”