Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers
Pat Dye use to nickname the ending of Auburn Football’s schedule every season as “Amen Corner” with a November that featured the likes of Florida, Georgia and Alabama. It seems Bruce Pearl and his basketball squad have a similar task at hand to end the regular season with trips to Rupp Arena and Coleman Coliseum before taking on Tennessee at home next Saturday.
These final three games of the regular season provided the Tigers, currently ranked 33rd in the NET, with opportunities to enhance their postseason resume with three Quad 1 matchups at Kentucky, ranked 29th, Alabama, ranked second, and Tennessee, ranked third. Auburn is currently has a 2-7 record in Quad 1 contests.
“We sit here with three games left in the season, to be tied for fourth with Tennessee, on the one hand it demonstrated this team has been competitive,” said head coach Bruce Pearl. “The league, I don’t know if it’s the best it’s been, but it’s close… Here we are, we’re in the thick of it.”
Over the past six seasons, Auburn has won the most games of any SEC school with 141, against non-conference and conference opponents combined. The Tigers are followed by their next two Saturday opponents; Tennessee with 138 and Kentucky with 135.
Despite all of the recent success for Auburn, Rupp Arena has been a house of horrors for a program that hasn’t won in Lexington, KY since 1988 and has a record of 2-47 in the bluegrass state.
“We haven’t won there in 35 years, but we remind them we’ve beaten them four of the last six,” Pearl said.
In order for Auburn to ‘Make History’, the program mantra under Pearl, they will have to be firing on all cylinders. The Tigers shot 48.1 percent (25-52) from the floor against Ole Miss on Wednesday. Auburn is now 8-2 when shooting 46 percent or better from the field this season. They also shot a season best 91.7 percent from the free throw line making 22 of 24 attempts.
Both team’s strengths are their big men which should create quite the matchup between Johni Broome and Oscar Tshiebwe. The two currently rank first and second in the league in double doubles. Broome has recorded 45 career double double performances which is tied for fifth nationally among NCAA Division I career leaders with Kevin Samuel of South Alabama, while Tshiebwe is second with 55.
Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers
Along with the battle down low, the rebounding in Saturday’s matchup will be crucial. The Wildcats currently rank sixth nationally and first in the league with an +8.1 rebound margin. The Tigers on the other hand are coming off back to back games in which they were out rebounded in a combined 79-63.
Along with Broome, Jaylin Williams is heating up again reaching double figures before halftime for the second-straight game on Wednesday. He scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half versus Ole Miss. Williams led the Tigers in the plus-minus column at +16.
John Calipari’s squad is starting to get hot at the right time having won their last three SEC contests moving into third place after an 82-74 road victory at Florida on Wednesday and an upset of Tennessee 66-54 on February 18th.
"I want them to have confidence," Pearl said. "We respect Kentucky, we respect their history, and I'm very proud that we've been competitive with Kentucky. That's what you've got to do when you're in the SEC."
The Wildcats are 13-3 at home this season averaging 19,814 fans per game at Rupp Arena. Saturday’s game will be the largest crowd the Tigers will play in front of this season. Auburn and Kentucky are scheduled to tipoff at 3 PM CST. The matchup will be nationally televised on CBS and can be heard on the Auburn Sports Network.