Momentum can be a massive difference maker in sports, especially for a group of 18-22 year old college athletes. Alabama (13-8, 6-3 SEC) had been playing its best basketball of the season heading into Fayetteville on Wednesday, due, in no small part, to the confidence the team had established over their 6-2 start to conference play. Well, that all came crashing down in an atrocious 87-68 loss to the Razorbacks. The Tide continuously failed to take advantage of the Hogs’ poor shooting early on in the game, as they racked up more turnovers than Phillip Fulmer in a discount bakery. Arkansas started making their shots, and the game spiraled out of control shortly after.
The Crimson Tide suffered a similar loss to the Auburn Tigers (14-8, 3-6 SEC) a few weeks ago, as the Tigers pulled away late and buried the Tide 84-64 in Auburn Arena. However, Avery Johnson’s team showed a fantastic ability to overcome the adversity of that loss, as ‘Bama followed it up with their best performance of the season, a twenty point win in Athens against a good Georgia team. It’s only fitting that the Tigers are now the opponent Alabama is looking to bounce back against.
The Last Meeting
Three Keys to Victory
1. Win the Turnover Battle. Bruce Pearl’s teams are known for being long and athletic, and this year’s Auburn team definitely fits that bill. He preaches getting offense from defense by forcing his opponents to turn the ball over and converting in transition. This is also a tried-and-true way of burying an away team. Alabama has to prevent this from happening if they want to avoid another ugly ‘L’ down on the Plains.
2.Defend the Perimeter. Auburn, much like Alabama, falls in love with the three-pointer quite often. Historically, the Tigers have fed off of the home crowd in this game, and nothing gets the home crowd going like the three-ball. Alabama knew they were going to beat Mizzou, but they still gave up way too many open looks on the perimeter, which allowed the worst three-point shooting team in the country to hit 7/14 from deep. Let’s not let the roof come off of Auburn Arena by allowing that to happen again.
3.Continue to Dominate the Boards. Another conference game, another beat-down on the boards, as Alabama out-rebounded Missouri 37-27. Slowly but surely Avery is dragging this team out of the hole Anthony Grant left the program in. Auburn has length across the board, much like ‘Bama, so it won’t be easy. But rebounding has been the difference between Alabama’s 7-5 non-conference record and their 4-1 start in conference play. They need to keep that up.
The last meeting with the Tigers went about how one would expect an ugly ‘Bama loss to go. The Tide had a chance to take complete control of the game early on, similar to the Arkansas game, but Alabama never capitalized. The 30-30 halftime score was defintely not a good indicator for the team, as the Tide really should have been up a decent amount at that juncture.
Alabama turned the ball over 16 times in the game, gave up way too many open jumpers (Auburn shot 50.0% from the field and 8/13 from downtown), shot poorly themselves (41.0% from the field, 6/21 from deep), and got scrubbed from the charity stripe (Auburn: 28/42, Alabama: 10/19). The Tide even failed to out-rebound the Tigers, as both teams finished with 34 boards each. That simply can’t happen again if Alabama wants to avoid being swept by their in-state rivals.
What To Watch For this Time
Clearly, Alabama needs a complete 180-degree turn from the previous meeting. The Tide have to prevent Auburn from getting open looks, as they are a very talented team that has the ability to get hot and make a run, like the one they had to close the game out last time. Also, it would behoove the Tide to deny entry into the post a bit better than they did last game, as 18 year old man-child Austin Wiley tore ‘Bama up from the interior.
Speaking of the interior, Alabama needs to assert their authority on the glass again. The Tide actually ended up out-rebounding Arkansas on Wednesday night, so even in their losses, Alabama is still holding up in that area. Auburn battled the Crimson Tide to a stalemate on the boards a few weeks ago, and that negated what has been one of Alabama’s biggest strengths this season.
On top of that, Alabama simply can’t make the same mistakes they made in Auburn. 16 turnovers and 42 free throw attempts allowed will lose you the game nine times out of ten. Fortunately for the Tide, this game will be played in the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum, which is expected to be at full-capacity for this game. That should help swing the turnover margin back in favor of Avery Johnson’s group, as Auburn is a really young team that could be prone to turning the ball over under pressure in a hostile envrionment. Plus, the Tide will hopefully get the benefit of the doubt with officiating at home.
Also of note, Auburn forward Horace Spencer is questionable for the game Saturday night, after leaving the last game with a shoulder injury.
This is an incredibly important game for the Crimson Tide’s 2016-17 season. A loss would mean an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the hated Auburn Tigers, but it would also drop the Tide to 6-4 in SEC play, with conference kingpins #19 South Carolina and #8 Kentucky on deck for next week. Just like that, all of Alabama’s momentum from their hot start could be completely obliterated. A win would get ‘Bama back up off of the mat, and could be a spring-board to a big week upcoming.
The game will tip-off at 7:30 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.