Ready or Not, Here Comes Undefeated No. 4 Auburn to Coleman Coliseum
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Monday was a tough practice.
Not only was the first the University of Alabama men’s basketball team held following the weekend loss at then-No. 14 Kentucky, it was also the key practice before facing its next opponent, Auburn.
“It was very tough,” junior wing John Petty Jr. “We know it’s going to be a game of running.
“We’re going to have to have a lot of wind for that one.”
It goes without saying that Alabama would like nothing better than to hand undefeated No. 4 Auburn (15-0) its first loss for the season, especially since the Tigers reached the Final Four last year. But it’s also trying to avoid falling into a 1-3 hole in league play (8-7 overall).
That makes this a big game regardless of the opponent.
The rivalry aspect of it can’t be ignored, though. Auburn won both matchups last season and starting center Anfernee McLemore said at SEC Media Day that his favorite place to play on the road was at Coleman Coliseum because “I like the look of disappointment on their faces when we win.”
Needless to say, the Crimson Tide has heard that quote – a lot.
Although this will be his first Alabama-Auburn game, Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats’ reaction was to say, “We’ll see if it’s still his favorite place to play tomorrow."
In terms of style of play, the Tigers are probably the closest to the Crimson Tide in the Southeastern Conference, or least in what they strive to be.
Both teams like to push the pace, drive to the basket, spread it out and hit 3s.
Thus, the rigorous practice, because Wednesday’s showdown could look like basketball’s version of a track meet at times (8 p.m., ESPN2). Oats really pushed his team Monday and then eased off Tuesday morning, giving the players a good 30 hours of rest and recovery.
“The biggest thing, other than being skilled, is they play really hard all the time,” Oats said about Auburn. “There’s no dips in their effort in my opinion. I think it’s an ever-play, every-game deal, bringing intensity that we’re beginning to figure out. They’ve been doing it for a couple of years and that’s why they played in the Final Four last year.”
Despite its record Alabama has developed into a tough opponent over the last month or so, with Kentucky coach John Calipari going so far as saying, “There is no one that wants to play Alabama right now.” However, it hasn’t translated into wins yet, as the Wildcats still walked away with a 76-67 home victory Saturday.
Overall, Alabama and Auburn are 1-2 in the league in scoring offense (83.2 points per game for Alabama, 82.1 for Auburn), although the Crimson Tide is last defensively as it’s worked through injury issues and learning the new system under Oats.
Yet Alabama did learn at Kentucky it can still be competitive against top talent even when its shots aren’t falling.
While Alabama is averaging 11 3-pointers a game it was just 4-for-21 from beyond the arc against the Wildcats.
It wasn’t so much that the players missed so many long shots – Oats thought that they didn’t take enough. To him the biggest problem was that they didn’t take enough good shots.
“That’s the biggest thing we’ve talked about since the Kentucky game,” he said. “I felt like we got away from what we did. Whether it was guys trying to do too much on their own, whether it was we missed some good looks early so let’s go away from the 3 – that’s not how we play.
“I told them ‘I don’t care if we’re 0-for-10 from 3, every time you get an open shot you’re talking it. I felt that we went away [from it], maybe passed up some and drove it, shot some bad – we were 1-for-16 on not-at-the-rim twos. That’s not how we play.”
So big game doesn’t seem to be an adequate description.
Big and emotion is a little more telling, with a sellout crowd expected. With none of Alabama’s final eight visitors currently ranked in the AP Top 25, it’ll likely be the best atmosphere at Coleman Coliseum for 2020.
Alabama is even giving out 500 hardhats to help promote its blue-collar hard-work approach.
“I feel they play the hardest against us versus anybody,” Petty said with another nod to the rivalry.
“This game just has a little more meaning behind it.”