The Crimson Tide (14-7, 6-2 SEC) has won five of their last six games while the Tigers (9-13, 2-6) started conference play 2-0, but have since dropped six straight. These archrivals tip off tonight at 7 CT at Auburn Arena on the SEC Network.
Alabama's surge hasn't been easy. The Tide has gotten into a habit of starting out slow, digging themselves into a hole, then surging with their backs against the wall to beat their opponents by the narrowest of margins. Alabama has only beaten one SEC team by more than five points this season (Mississippi State by 32).
"Well it's not by design," head coach Anthony Grant said, laughing, when asked if his team plays better when trailing. "I like to play with the lead to be honest with you, but it's going to be a 40-minute game, so you can never get too high, you can never get too low."
In the Tide's most recent outing, a 58-54 win over Vanderbilt on the road, Bama was down by 11 with seven minutes to go before going on an 18-3 run to close things out.
"We've had several games where we've started off well, we've been able to build a lead and then at the end of the half we've had lulls," Grant said. "The whole thing is consistency. I think that's what every coach will tell you that they want. They want to see consistency. And I think when our guys are playing at their best from an offensive and defensive standpoint, we've got a chance to be a very good basketball team."
Ironically, Alabama has a 4-1 record when trailing at halftime in conference games this season.
Auburn may have lost its last six games in a row, but this is a rivalry game and Alabama certainly won't look past the Tigers.
"Everybody that we play in the SEC is a very good team and Auburn is no different," Grant said. "They've had some tough losses where it's been a one possession game that could have gone either way. They're a very good basketball team."
Senior guard Frankie Sullivan leads the Tigers in scoring (16.5 points per game), but hasn't been as dangerous since Auburn lost its first conference game to Arkansas in double overtime last month (averaging 12.6 ppg since then).
"He's a very talented player, a veteran guy," Grant said of Sullivan. "He's been around the league and seen it all. He's had an outstanding year for them and leads them in almost every offensive category. He's got great leadership qualities. He's a great player."
An Alabama win means the Tide are sitting a 7-2 in the SEC heading into the final half of the regular season. Grant said his team is handling the success well and is just trying to keep them focused.
"It's February," he said. "Hopefully our guys understand the sense of urgency that we have to have for every game … The last couple of games, the thing that I've been pleased with is that our guys have found a way to win. I'm always going to be looking at areas we can improve, things we can do better, but the fight that we've shown has been good. We need to continue trying to get better and improve as we go on in the season."
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