Pearl: Putting His Tigers In 'Harm's Way'

Auburn's new head basketball coach, Bruce Pearl, talks about preparing for the 2014-15 regular season as the Tigers prepare to face a challenging schedule.

Auburn, Ala.--After studying video of his team’s exhibition victory over West Alabama, Coach Bruce Pearl is preparing the Auburn basketball Tigers for their regular season debut with a home game on Friday night vs. a team he once coached, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers.

Tipoff time is 9 p.m. CST on Friday at Auburn Arena and the game will be televised on ESPNU as the Tigers open vs. a team that finished 21-14 last season and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after winning the Horizon League Tournament.

Pearl noted his undersized team has a major challenge on Friday and that will be the case on many nights this season.

“I know basketball, and I hope I develop a relationship and trust with our fans that they trust me enough to know, ‘yes, I am putting my team in major harm’s way this season.’ This is where I want the program. I am not going to wait for the roster to be right or perfect, and have all types of depth and size. We are going to go.”

Pearl said that is why the Tigers have scheduled early season games vs. the Panthers and NCAA Tournament teams Colorado, Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulsa while also playing in a tournament featuring Oklahoma State and Oregon State.

“That’s the deal,” he said, noting he wants his team to “play that kind of schedule against those type of teams.”

Pearl, who was hired to take over the team in March, said, “Whatever happens Friday night, we just need to understand this is a process. If it is good enough to win, fine, we have got to get better. If is not good enough to win, okay fine, we have got to get better. I know it is cliche-ish, but it is really true because we have been together such a limited period of time.”

The Tigers defeated West Alabama 94-58 on Friday night. After the game the coach said he thought his team did some good things as it forced 29 turnovers.

“I thought we played well,” he said following Monday’s practice after having time to study the game video. “I thought we made progress.

“I thought we share the ball,” Pearl added. “I thought we executed some things offensively. They wanted to play a lot more zone than we anticipated and I didn’t have a lot of zone (offensive) stuff in. I thought the guys reacted pretty well.

“We had some good outside-in offense,” he noted. “We have got a lot to learn in pressure, pressure transition and our dropback defenses. We got exposed enough to learn from them, but the exhibition is what I wanted.”

K.T. Harrell (left) guards Antoine Mason in practice. Mason was Auburn's top scorer vs. West Alabama with 22 points while Harrell scored 21.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee won its exhibition game 68-54 vs. Wisconsin-Platteville. Pearl said that Auburn fans will see a well-coached opponent on Friday night led by Coach Rob Jeter.

“People say you have everything to lose and nothing to gain,” Pearl said of opening the regular season vs. an NCAA Tournament team. “I don’t look at it that way. We have a lot to gain because we are going up against a great young coach with a really good system.

“They do a lot of things on offense we like to do and they are bigger than we are at every position,” Pearl said of the Panthers. “It is more like playing a Wisconsin (Badgers) team than Wisconsin-Milwaukee because of their size.”

Hoops Notes: Former Tiger and NBA star Charles Barkley talked to the team prior to their exhibition game on Friday. “He said this losing has got to stop,” said Pearl, who added that Barkley challenged each player on the roster to take on that assignment as a personal challenge. The Tigers did not have a winning season in four years with Tony Barbee as head coach...Matthew Atewe, a six-foot-eight, 255-pound sophomore, took a blow to his leg on the exhibition game and did not return. Last season he had a rod inserted in his leg to help strengthen a stress fracure. Pearl said it's wait and see right now on Atewe's status. "Sure enough he went back out the other day and we think he's re-opened that back up slightly so he's going to be out until it gets healed up fully," the coach noted. "We're never going to put a player in position to put themselves at risk."...ESPN college basketball analyst and a two-time ACC Coach of the Year, Seth Greenberg, will be the featured speaker at Friday’s Auburn Tip-Off Club meeting at Saugahatchee Country Club. The club will have 12 meetings with guest speakers throughout the season. The membership fee is $250 and includes meals at each event. For more information on joining the club, contact the group’s president, Philip Minor, at (334) 826-8682, extension 223.

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