Alabama basketball has a tough road test Saturday night in the intensely unfriendly confines of the Auburn Arena.
Auburn Arena will be rocking Saturday night as Alabama basketball tries to end a three-game losing streak on the Tigers’ home court. Despite having lost three of the last four games, the Auburn Tigers are tough to beat. They are especially tough to beat on their home court.
Since Auburn’s cozy 9,000 seater opened in the fall of 2010, the Alabama Crimson Tide record in Auburn has been 3-5. The last Alabama basketball win in Auburn happened in January 2015, before Avery Johnson became the Tide head coach.
The Tide record in Auburn against Bruce Pearl coached teams is worse, a poor 1-3. Alabama basketball actually has the edge over Pearl in all Tide vs. Tigers games at 6-5. Auburn, however, has won the last three games in Auburn.
Say what you want about Pearl (and we have had much to say, largely negative) but he can coach. His teams play hard, with a belligerence that both feeds off and feeds the Auburn crowds. When the Tigers are nailing threes, all parts of their game click – steals, fast breaks, even offensive rebounds.
Auburn can punish opponents who do not rebound and who are too loose with the basketball. The Tigers’ weakness is a lack of dominance by their bigs. Austin Wiley will return for Saturday’s game and he can be a difference maker. He has been in a boot, recovering from a stress fracture and is not expected to be fully conditioned for the game. That does not mean he cannot give Pearl a strong 20 minutes.
Auburn cannot be allowed to shoot uncontested threes, but running them off the arc carries some risk. If it leads them to frequent dribble penetration, Donta Hall, trying to block every shot near him, could easily get into foul trouble. Against the quickness of Auburn, Avery has no good option with Hall on the bench. Galin Smith, Alex Reese and Daniel Giddens do not have the rim protection skills of Donta. They also don’t have quick enough defensive feet.
Auburn, particularly without Wiley, does not have much size in its four-guard lineup. They use quickness and effort to make the team formidable rebounders. Alabama basketball cannot allow the Tigers repeated shots around the basket.
The dribble-drive, inside-out offense Avery implemented against Mississippi State could work against the Tigers. If the Tide hits a decent number of threes – or when not shooting the long ball well, restrains from jacking up too many early threes, the Tigers will be challenged to defend.
With all the flash and sizzle Bruce Pearl will try to impose, the outcome could be determined in a couple of old-school ways. Winning the turnover and defensive rebound battles might be enough to win the game.
Two of last season’s three games between the Tide and the Aubies had wild, point swings. The Tigers won by 19 in Auburn. The Tide won by 18 in the SEC Tournament, in St. Louis.