The Stretch 4: Auburn hits the road again for a 'trap game' in Huntsville
Even though UNC Asheville isn't nearly as strong as App State, the Tigers want to avoid what happened after their last big win.
SG Denver Jones (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
When Auburn basketball takes the floor Wednesday night, it will be the ninth game of the season for the Tigers.
But Bruce Pearl says it feels like his team has played double that amount.
“You talk about taking the show on the road,” Pearl said. “I can’t believe we’ve only played eight games. … Now we’re going to play our ninth game of the year, and another one not in the friendly confines of Neville Arena. That’s part of our developing this program — travel.”
Auburn has only played three true home games this season: Southeastern Louisiana, Alabama A&M and Virginia Tech. Wednesday will mark the fifth neutral-site game for the Tigers, who are less than two weeks removed from a rare true road game against a mid-major.
Six games away from home in its first nine contests isn’t normal for a power-conference basketball team. In fact, this is the first time this has happened for Auburn since the 2007-08 season under Jeff Lebo.
The Tigers have been to Sioux Falls, Brooklyn, Boone and Atlanta already this season. Up next is an in-state trip to Huntsville, where the program hasn’t played since a 2009 win over nearby Alabama A&M.
This time around, Auburn faces UNC Asheville — the defending Big South conference champion — in the Rocket City Classic. While it’s a road trip for the Tigers, they know they’ll have a true home-court advantage in north Alabama.
“It was sold out within, I think, a week of the tickets going on sale,” Pearl said Tuesday. “That’s just the way family is. You understand the responsibility that I feel to try to have our team be competitive because I’m so appreciative and grateful for the support that we get. I know all the coaches in Auburn feel that way. We just do.
“That said, this is a trap game.”
Pearl compared the UNC Asheville game to the Appalachian State game from less than two weeks ago. Auburn was fresh off a double-digit win against a power-conference foe in Virginia Tech, then got “outplayed” away from home.
This time, Auburn is coming off a dominant win over Indiana in Atlanta ahead of a matchup with a small-conference team with its sights set on another NCAA Tournament berth.
“BP came in and was very vocal about we beat a good Virginia Tech team at home, and then we went to App State and didn't play as hard,” center and new Auburn graduate Dylan Cardwell said Tuesday. “He said we don't want to repeat history. … We don't want to get too excited about a (nearly) 30-point win against Indiana and just look over a tournament team, because they were a tournament team last year.”
For more on Auburn’s potentially tricky matchup against UNC Asheville on Wednesday night, a certain player’s surge ahead of a homecoming game, the importance of the trip to Huntsville and the Tigers’ ultra-impressive assist rate, here is this week’s edition of The Stretch 4.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
Scouting another big man-led team in UNC Asheville
There was a ton of pre-game attention placed on the frontcourt matchup between Auburn and Indiana, and for good reason.
The Tigers held the duo of Malik Reneau and Kel’el Ware mostly in check, and that allowed the guards to take full advantage of a Hoosiers team that just didn’t have nearly the same quality in the backcourt. Auburn might not have gotten a ton of offense from Johni Broome and Cardwell, but their physical rebounding and defense were both more than enough to gain a considerable edge.
“It was a key for Indiana,” Cardwell said. “It was a key for Virginia Tech. It's going to be a key throughout the rest of the season, just making sure we're up under guys.”
Auburn is going to have to bring that mentality again Wednesday night against UNC Asheville, which is led by one of the nation’s most productive big men in Drew Pember.