T.J. Dunans (above) is shown in action during Auburn's victory vs. UAB.
Auburn, Ala.--Bruce Pearl said he is trying to stay positive as his basketball team goes into its final six regular season games an underdog in each contest. Next up for his Tigers is a Wednesday contest at Bud Walton Arena where Auburn will take on the Arkansas Razorbacks.
“I have to,” the coach said about the need to be upbeat despite his team’s seven-game losing streak fueled by personnel problems that have left him a different-looking roster than he expected to be working with in his second season at Auburn.
“Believe it or not, I believe we can play a lot better than we are playing and so from that standpoint it’s discouraging,” Pearl said about his team, which is 9-15 overall and 3-9 in the SEC. “Like at halftime against Vanderbilt, I just felt like we are two stops and a couple of scores away from getting it close again, and we just didn’t have any energy coming out of the second half.”
Auburn was close with the Commodores for most of the first half, but Vanderbilt pulled away for an 86-57 victory on Saturday at Auburn Arena.
Arkansas is coming into Wednesday’s 6 p.m. CST contest (SEC Network TV coverage) following a 76-60 loss at Ole Miss. The Razorbacks are 12-13 overall and 5-7 in the league. Coach Mike Anderson’s team is 11-3 at home this season and 4-1 at home in SEC games.
Arkansas features one of the SEC’s top players, 6-10 junior Moses Kingsley, who is averaging 16 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.
Moses Kingsley is in the hunt for All-SEC honors this season.
Anthin Bell, a 6-3 senior guard, is the top scorer for the Razorbacks at 16.2 points per game. Dusty Hannahs, a 6-3 junior transfer from Texas Tech, is averaging 15.8 points per contest.
The other expected starters for Anderson’s team include 6-1 senior guard Jabril Durham (6.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists) and 6-3 junior guard Manuale Watkins (5.6 points, 3.3 rebounds).
Pearl noted that attrition has changed his team that was performing at a higher level early in the season. “I was looking back and reading about how Middle Tennessee has won 10 of the last 12, and UAB and Middle are right there for Conference USA, and looking at New Mexico they are competitive. You realize that you’re 6-3 after New Mexico and then (T.J.) Dunans gets wrapped up. That 6-3 I felt like should have been 7-2, could have been 8-1, but we’re in pretty good shape and we’re a pretty good team, and then it started to unravel pretty quickly because Dunans was a very, very important piece for us.”
Dunans has been injured since going down with a knee injury on Dec. 23rd vs. Harvard. “He does go back to the doctor Thursday and gets to see what his status is,” Pearl said of the junior guard, who is averaging 12.4 points per game. “He’s still not live, but he’s been running more. He’s getting closer as far as his rehab is concerned.”
Arkansas leads the series 32-16 and is 20-3 all-time vs the Tigers in games played in Fayetteville with a 19-2 mark vs. Auburn at Bud Walton Arena.