The Stretch 4: Auburn has the chance to 'do something special' at Alabama
The Tigers have seen red-hot runs come to an end in Tuscaloosa. It won't be easy at all, but this team wants to prove that it's different.
PF Jaylin Williams (Steven Leonard/Auburn Tigers)
Although there won’t be a ranking next to its name, Bruce Pearl knows that Alabama is an extremely talented and extremely dangerous opponent for a top-10 Auburn team.
Alabama is 12-6 overall, but all six of its losses have come to teams currently ranked in the top 45 nationally on KenPom. Three of those opponents are currently ranked in the top five. The human voters in the AP poll might dock the Crimson Tide for their record. The computer ratings still love them — they still sit in the top 10 in NET, KenPom, T-Rank and EvanMiya.
Oh, and Alabama is a different animal at home in Coleman Coliseum, where it will host Auburn on Wednesday night. Alabama opened as the betting favorite, too.
“They shoot it over 45% at home,” Pearl said Tuesday. “They've been really, really tough to beat at home. The margins of victory at home are pretty astounding. They were last year. … I've said it a few times as we've stepped up in play, I think I said it when we played Baylor and then maybe next was Texas A&M, and I think I'll say it now — this is the best team we've played so far.”
Case in point: Last year in Tuscaloosa, Auburn led by 17 points with 10 minutes left to go in regulation. Alabama sent that game into overtime and would win it, clinching the SEC regular-season championship.
“That team, we didn’t stick together,” senior forward Jaylin Williams said. “So I think this team, if we get to that point, I feel like it’s going to be over with. But we know how good of a team Alabama is, so we still got to respect them in a way that we just can’t go out there and play like we’re the No. 8 team in the country.
“My freshman year, we were No. 4 in the country and we hadn’t lost a game yet — and we go to Bama and lose. This team is really going to stick together and show what we can do and how special we can be.”
Auburn has won 11 straight games, with all of them coming by double-digits. But, as Williams points out, Auburn had started 15-0 before losing in Tuscaloosa in 2020. Two years earlier, a 14-game winning streak for the Tigers came to an end inside Coleman.
On the flip side, Auburn’s victory at Alabama in 2022 came toward the middle of what would be a 19-game winning streak that took the Tigers all the way to No. 1 in the country.
But you can throw the record books and the winning streaks out the window in this rivalry series, because the Crimson Tide can go nuclear at home. That’s consistently been the story under Nate Oats, who has an Alabama team that has the No. 1-ranked offense in the country. The Tide is averaging a sizzling 94.6 points per home game.
But Auburn is playing some of the best defense in the country right now, having held four of its first five SEC opponents to 65 points or less. As Pearl said Tuesday, “it’ll be all (Auburn) can do to guard” Alabama, but the numbers say that the Tigers are “pretty good defensively.”
“We know how tough it will be for us to go in there and play our game,” Williams said. “But we trust in our principles and our defense, I feel like we’ll be well coached and the coaches will have a really good scout for us. We know their personnel and what they like to do.
“And at the end of the day, they’ll have a weakness. We’ve just got to find it.”
For more on that ahead of Auburn basketball’s monster matchup with Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday night, here’s this week’s edition of The Stretch 4.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
What’s different this year? Confidence and chemistry.
Last year in Tuscaloosa, Auburn’s 17-point lead was erased quickly by an Alabama offense that was on a warpath to an SEC title.
“I think Alabama's team had a lot to do with us losing a 17-point lead,” Pearl said. “I thought that we had played exceptionally well. But they made great plays, and there were some tough calls. I would give Alabama the credit. ... This year's team will have challenges, just like last year's team.”
This season, Auburn has held onto double-digit leads in literally every single one of its wins. The Tigers have given up second-half runs from opponents that have threatened, but Auburn has done a much better job of slamming the door on its opponent this time around.
Getting to a big lead on an Alabama team in Coleman Coliseum will be quite the challenge, considering how well the Crimson Tide score there. But, as Williams said, something feels different about this season’s team when it comes to maintaining control of a game.