The Stretch 4: Pearl vs. White, scouting a new-look UGA and a Westry update
Auburn made the most of its New Year's weekend without a game, and now it's got its sights set on a very different rival in Athens.
(Grayson Belanger/Auburn Athletics)
Whenever New Year’s Day falls around a weekend, SEC basketball usually takes it off. Football gets most of the attention then, and having a quick break after the opening night of conference play works out well with the SEC-Big 12 Challenge coming later in the league slate.
The off weekend creates a unique break in the schedule, one that won’t happen again the rest of the season. It’s the last chance for teams to catch their breath before essentially nine straight weeks with two games — a relentless gauntlet that crowns champions and makes or breaks tournament hopes.
After pulling out a gritty win over Florida last Wednesday night, Auburn found itself having a full week before its first SEC road game, a trip to rival Georgia. And in order to best prepare for the grind, the Tigers immediately had two demanding practices.
“We had two really physical, really hard — kind of glad we got through it without anybody getting hurt — practices,” Bruce Pearl said. “Some best-on-best activity.”
Auburn’s players ended up only getting one day off during the weekend away from action. Instead of taking a real breather, the Tigers spent a practice fully focused on self-improvement and then getting a head start on a Georgia team that has been playing better-than-expected ball so far this season.
“We got to work on us a whole lot, something we haven't had the opportunity to do much this season because we've had a lot of games,” center Dylan Cardwell said. “Just back to back to back. We have to work a lot on us and just really get to work out all the kinks in our offense and stuff like that.
“Our mistakes, our turnovers and our defense — and really just work on transition, you know, to have a chance to really be in tune about what we have to do better for the continuation of the season.”
Pearl said he thought the two practices late last week were good ones, because his team knew it had a lot to improve.
The specific focuses on offensive execution and transition defense went hand-in-hand with the extra preparation for Georgia. The Bulldogs’ defense is ahead of their offense, like Auburn, and their offense is at its best when it’s able to get out and run.
When Auburn played Georgia for the first time last season, the Bulldogs had only won five games. This first matchup — which is coming earlier in the year — features a Georgia team that has already won twice as many games under the leadership of new head coach Mike White, who was previously at Florida.
“The more I watch Georgia — and obviously, we've had time to watch Georgia — the more impressed I've been with them,” Pearl said. “Mike has come in and done a really good job. They've got an older, veteran team with a lot of transfers. They're playing pretty well right now. They still, you know, don't know a lot about themselves in the sense that they haven't played as tough of a schedule. But I think as a result, they've built up some confidence.
“They're way better than they were a year ago. They're just way better than a year ago. … It's an opportunity for us to win on the road. Obviously, those are the great separators. You have to win at home, and you've got to get a couple on the road. This one won't be easy.”
For more on Auburn basketball’s Wednesday night matchup with Georgia and an update on Chance Westry, here is this week’s edition of The Stretch 4.