What can Auburn learn from its loss at Alabama for the rematch at home?
The Tigers didn't play a good road game and still had a chance. Here are three areas where they can improve and get revenge.
PF Jaylin Williams (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
Jaylin Williams has played a lot of basketball at Auburn — 129 games, to be exact.
Williams has experienced the entire spectrum of results as a member of the Tigers, from thrilling blowout wins at home to crushing losses on the road.
But Williams said he had never experienced anything quite like Auburn’s 79-75 loss at Alabama two weeks ago.
“It was a very weird feeling,” Williams said Tuesday. “I’ve never felt that. We felt like we could've done so much better.”
Williams added that the Tigers were “OK with losing that game.” That doesn’t mean the loss was no big deal, as it was a winnable matchup against Auburn’s biggest rival on the road. But it was more of a sense of handling the loss in the context of how the Tigers played and where they played.
And Williams’ own head coach even alluded to something similar in the immediate aftermath of the game at Coleman Coliseum.
“This may not be the outcome we wanted, but this is an outcome that tells me something,” Bruce Pearl said back in late January. “You gotta be pretty good to come in here and not get run out in this environment.”
Two weeks later, Auburn gets its rematch against Alabama inside the friendly confines of Neville Arena. Even though Auburn lost at Mississippi State, the back-to-back wins over Vanderbilt and Ole Miss mean that the Tigers can pull even with the Crimson Tide for the top spot in the SEC title race with a revenge win Wednesday night.
Auburn won’t be eliminated from contention with a loss. But the team understands that the best and clearest path to staying in the fight for a banner comes by staying perfect in front of the Jungle.
“You've got to win all of your games at home to have a chance to win a championship,” Pearl said Tuesday. “We know what it is, and I'm sure the guys will be ready.”
Auburn’s 4-point defeat at Alabama earlier this season wasn’t a typical loss. The Tigers started well but went from an 8-point lead to a 14-point deficit at halftime. They rallied to tie the game up in the middle of the second half, yet they were unable to get the key plays down the stretch to win.
It was a close loss that came with Auburn shooting just 20% from deep — falling to Alabama by 18 in points off 3-pointers — and having as many turnovers as assists.
Like Williams said, Auburn left Tuscaloosa knowing that it could have played much better basketball against Alabama. Now, the Tigers hope that the lessons they learned from that loss can carry them to a critical win in the rematch Wednesday night.
Here are some of those lessons that could go a long way in determining if Auburn gets that victory back at home or deals with the sting of a second straight sweep at the hands of Alabama.