The Tigers and Tulsa will tip off at 10 p.m. CST on Monday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The Tigers are in the Heavyweight Bracket of the MGM Grand Main Event and will play again on Wednesday vs. either Oklahoma State, another 2014 NCAA Tournament participant, or Oregon State.
Pearl and the Tigers flew to Las Vegas on Saturday evening and the coach notes his team is looking forward to the challenge. “Our goal is for Auburn basketball to be relevant in the world of college basketball,” he says. “We have to be able to participate and compete in tournaments like this.”
The Auburn vs. Tulsa game will be televised by ESPNU. “This is a really well run tournament and we are able to play in the venue (MGM Grand Garden Arena) where they host the Pac-12 Tournament,” Pearl points out.
Both teams bring 2-1 records into the contest. The Tigers are coming off a Friday night homecourt 105-85 victory vs. Louisiana-Lafayette as part of the MGM Grand event. Tulsa defeated Louisiana-LaFayette 65-53, a game that was also part of the MGM Grand event.
In its last outing the Golden Hurricane defeated Abilene Christian 65-39. The loss was a 77-68 setback at Oral Roberts.
Auburn is 2-0 all-time in games vs. Tulsa. The last matchup was a 74-55 victory for Coach Jeff Lebo’s Tigers in the second round of the 2009 NIT.
Tulsa relies heavily on its defense and rebounding. The Golden Hurricane has held opponents to under 50 percent shooting in 33 consecutive games and holds a 124-97 rebounding advantage through three contests this season.
D’Andre Wright, a 6-9, 245 junior forward, leads Tulsa in scoring at 15.7 points per game and is averaging 6.3 rebounds. James Woodard, a 6-3 junior guard, is averaging 11 points and five rebounds.
The other expected starters are 6-3 junior guard Shaquille Harrison (5.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists), 5-10 sophomore guard Rashad Ray (7.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists) and 6-7 junior guard Rashad Smith (8.7 points, 6.0 rebounds).
Senior Consistency: Auburn guard K.T. Harrell has scored a team-high 20 or more points in every game this season and has reached the 20-point mark 15 times in 33 games as a Tiger.
K.T. Harrell drives to the basket vs. Louisiana-LaFayette.
Junior Consistency: Power forward Cinmeon Bowers has posted double-doubles in each of his three Auburn games. The transfer from junior college leads the SEC in rebounding with 14 per contest.
Career Highs: Junior foward Jordon Granger (14 points), sophomore guard Tajh Shamsid-Deen (21 points) and senior guard Malcolm Canada (10 points) are coming off their top scoring games since joining the Auburn team. Those Tigers helped Auburn score the most points last Friday night since defeating Grambling 105-56 on Nov. 29, 2003, a stretch of 340 games.
Season of Change: Tulsa has a new head coach and a new league. After playing for nine seasons in Conference USA the Hurricane is in the American Athletic Conference with Frank Haith running the team. He has a coaching record of 464-146 in 20 seasons. Haith spent the previous three seasons at Missouri where he posted a record of 76-28.
Injury Update: Antoine Mason, who has missed the previous two games with an ankle injury, is listed as questionable for the Tulsa game. If he is able to play this week Pearl points out the senior guard will not be full speed.
Quoting Pearl: “It’s a great venue,” the coach said of his team’s second trip to the western part of the country this year for games. “As an educator, to be able to get these kids to see a different part of the country, it’s exciting for them to be here and experience it. Las Vegas is a spectacular city.”
Up Next: If the Tigers win they will play at 10:30 p.m.CST on Wednesday in the championship game. If they lose to Tulsa the Tigers will play at 8 p.m.