Auburn Basketball Game 19 Preview/Notes

Bruce Pearl's Tigers are headed for Tuscaloosa for a Saturday night game vs. Alabama where the Tide has been tough to handle.

Bruce Pearl gets his first taste of the Auburn-Alabama basketball rivalry on Saturday night as his Tigers take on the Tide at Coleman Coliseum.

Tipoff for the contest is 7:30 p.m. CST and the game will be televised on the SEC Network. Both teams are coming off of losses and are 2-3 in the SEC.

Alabama, which is 12-8 overall, lost 93-91 in overtime at Arkansas on Thursday night. The Tigers fell 78-71 at home on Wednesday night vs. Mississippi State to drop to 10-8.

“You have to put the loss behind you, you have to get ready to play the next game,” Pearl said about his team’s setback vs. the Bulldogs in a contest the Tigers were favored to win.

“You look back on it and you go, ‘Well, it’s Mississippi State. It’s a game we are supposed to have at home. You look at the games that are coming up and many of them are going to be more challenging than that,’ but then you look at Mississippi State and their roster and the way they have been playing. Having beaten Florida State, Vanderbilt and then Auburn in their last six games, they are a good basketball team. We didn’t play well enough to win.

“We turned it over way too many times,” the coach noted. “We didn’t defend our backboard and we allowed a team that was longer and more athletic and quicker, and we have played many teams that have been that way, to do the things that you can’t do to put them in a position to win.

“Our live ball turnovers were really bad because our turnovers led to easy runouts and gave those guys confidence,” Pearl pointed out. “We’re pretty down, but we have to pick ourselves back up and see if we can continue to improve and get better. That’s been inconsistent.”

Commenting on coaching for the first time for the Tigers vs. Auburn’s in-state rival, Pearl said, “I’ve had great rivalries. When I was coaching at Southern Indiana, Kentucky Wesleyan was our rivalry. Southern Indiana and Kentucky Wesleyan were two of the top five programs in all of Division II when I was there.

“When I was at Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed like pretty much everyone was our rival. It was Green Bay for sure, but Butler and UIC and Detroit, because we were competing for the championship every year, we had a bunch of them.

“At Tennessee it was Vanderbilt and Kentucky, probably, who were our biggest rivals,” the coach said. “Florida would have been. I just know those games mattered. They mattered more to our fans. They mattered more to me.

“You want to win them all, but there is no team I want to beat more than Alabama in the SEC because I am Auburn’s coach. That’s how I feel, that’s how our fans feel.”

Alabama is expected to start a three-guard lineup featuring 6-5 senior Levin Randolph (14.8 ponts, 4.8 rebounds), 6-6 senior Rodney Cooper (10.9 points, 3.9 rebounds) and 6-2 junior Ricky Tarrant (13.3 points, 2.2 rebounds) as a transfer from Tulane. Jimmie Taylor, a 6-10 sophomore forward, is averaging 4.7 points and 5.0 rebounds and is expected to start along with 6-9 sophomore Michael Kessens (7.3 points, 5.6 rebounds).

Justin Coleman, a high-profile recruit who is a freshman for the Tide, is a point guard who is averaging 5.4 points. He led Alabama in scoring with 22 points vs. Arkansas.

“It’s a good Alabama team,” Pearl said. “They are a Wichita State-win away from being a NCAA Tournament team right now. Put that game on their resume and they are in pretty good shape.” The Tide missed a shot at the buzzer for a win on the road vs. the Shockers.

“I like their team,” Pearl said. “They have good size. They have great guards. Ricky Tarrant coming in, kind of hopefully like Kareem Canty will come in for us next year, the timing of it was important. Trevor Releford dominated the ball for that program for the last several years. I’ve known Trevor for a long time because Coach Grant beat me on him (in recruiting) when I was at Tennessee. We wanted Trevor. He had been recruiting him a lot longer than I have.

Bruce Pearl has a 5-3 record in games vs. Alabama.

“That was actually the year I had committed Aaron Craft and Josh Selby, two really good point guards, and lost both of those commitments, one in May and one in the summertime, and got on Trevor late. He was going to go to Alabama, we just couldn’t get him to flip. Terrific player, but Tarrant coming in, timing was great, he’s really good. Randolph is really good, Cooper is really good. The guard Coleman is really good. They have depth on the front line. It’s a good team. They guard well and they run good things offensively. It will be a challenge for us.”

Injury Update: Guard Tajh Shamsid-Deen has been playing through a problem with his right shoulder that has popped out of joint. He has been wearing a brace for support and protection. Against Mississippi State he injured his left shoulder and his availability is a question for Saturday night’s game.

Tajh Shamsid-Deen is Auburn's best defender at the guard position, according to Bruce Pearl.

Commenting on the sophomore left-hander, Pearl said, “Even though it just went out, slightly, briefly, although painfully, it is in a much better state than the right one was. His first one was a lot more severe. He has a chance to play on Saturday.”

Homecourt Advantage: The Tide has won the last five meetings vs. Auburn at Coleman Coliseum and is 39-7 all-time in that arena vs. the Tigers. Alabama is 46-8 all-time games vs. Auburn played in Tuscaloosa. With Anthony Grant as head coach the Tide has won 35 of 44 home games in league play. The last four games in the series have been won by the home team.

First Time Vs. Bama: The last Auburn head men’s hoops coach to win in his first game vs. Alabama was Bill Lynn, whose Tigers defeated the Tide 83-76 in Montgomery during the 1963-64 season.

New Tricks? Commenting on graduate student transfer guards K.C. Ross-Miller and Antoine Mason, Pearl said, “Sometimes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. K.C. and Antoine, they’ve both worked hard at trying to adjust to our style of play. I think for both of them, the athleticism, the size, the SEC, is going to be challenging. They can both handle it and they both have handled it.

“K.C. is not always tuned in, he’s not always focused in--point guards need to be,” Pearl added. “When he gets the ball he needs to know where everybody is and he needs to know when they need to be there. There shouldn’t be any surprises for him when he is on the floor. Sometimes there are.

“I would like him to be more alert, would like him to be more focused, would like him to listen to the scout a little more and be more of an extension of me on the floor. He is not and you can’t change that in three months.”

17 Again: Against Mississippi State junior forward Auburn’s Cinmeon Bowers matched his SEC best total of 17 rebounds in one game, a mark he has reached three times. Bowers scored 16 points vs. MSU and has four consecutive double-doubles, the most for an Auburn player since Jeff Moore’s streak of five in 1988.

Up Next: The Tigers will play an 8 p.m. CST home game on Tuesday vs. Texas A&M.

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