T.J. Lang (above) is playing guard and forward for the Tigers.
Auburn, Ala.--Looking for their fourth road win of the season and second SEC victory, Coach Bruce Pearl’s
Auburn Tigers face perhaps their toughest game of the season when they play the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday.
Tipoff is set for 3 p.m. CST at Rupp Arena for a contest that will be televised by ESPN. Kentucky is 14-2 overall and the sixth-ranked Wildcats are 4-0 in the SEC. Auburn is 11-5 with a 1-3 league mark.
Auburn is coming off a 77-72 victory at Missouri on Tuesday night while Kentucky won at Vanderbilt, 87-81, that same evening.
“It was our third true road win this season,” Pearl said of the victory vs. Missouri. “I think it has been since 2008 that Auburn has had three true road wins. That was a good step.
“Missouri, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn were the four teams picked at the bottom of the league this year so if you are not going to finish at the bottom, or in the bottom, you have got to beat the bottom teams,” Pearl said. “I'm just referencing to and including myself in there because that's where we were picked so it is kind of a game you have got to win.
“We didn't play particularly well,” the coach said of the Missouri game. “Both teams played really hard. We defended well enough. We got 12 blocked shots so we competed at the rim. We did not do a good job rebounding the basketball. They did a better job rebounding the basketball, particularly at the offensive end.
“Late in the game we finished possessions,” Pearl said. “I'm not sure how many in a row we scored or got fouled on, but let's say the last seven or eight possessions were all really good possessions for us. That is what you've got to do to win close games. We were very pleased with the win and to get our first SEC road win.”
Pearl said the Tigers will again be without starting forward Danjel Purifoy, who is continuing to recover from an ankle injury suffered last Saturday vs. Ole Miss. The Tigers used four players in that power forward spot vs. Missouri, including junior guard T.J. Lang.
“The main thing is we got to make sure we don’t turn the ball over and give them easy chance points,” Lang said of the challenge of facing the Wildcats at Lexington. “Playing in Rupp Arena, once they get a run going it’s kind of hard to stop it because their fans get involved and it’s a lot of people and the momentum goes in their favor a lot there. The main thing we have to not turn it over and limit their transition points and highlight plays.”
Originally, it was feared that Purifoy could be out for a month, but he is ahead of schedule on his comeback from the ankle problem. Pearl has not given a time frame on when he expects the forward to play again.
Lang said the Tigers miss the six-foot-eight redshirt freshman. “It hurts us a lot,” he said. “Danjel is instant offense and when he doesn’t have it going offensively he can do what he did in the UConn game, grabbing 15 rebounds, so he is versatile offensively and defensively. He is a nightmare matchup for any team at the four position. Losing him really hurts us and we’ve got to find a way to hold it down until he comes back.”
Despite his team being a heavy underdog, Lang said he is looking forward to Saturday’s game in which each team features four freshmen in the starting lineup.
“It’s always fun to go to Kentucky and play,” the junior said. “The atmosphere is going to be crazy. We’re a young team so we’re going to be tested early so we’ve got to come out with as much intensity as possible. We’ve got to hit them in the mouth first.”
The Tigers probably need to be careful not to hit 6-10, 260 freshman center Bam Adebayo in the mouth or any place. He leads the Wildcats in rebounds with 7.3 per game and is averaging 13.1 points.
Bam Adebayo (above) is ranked fourth in the SEC in rebounding.
Another freshman, 6-3, 200 guard Malik Monk, is averaging 21.7 points per game. Freshman De’Aaron Fox, a 6-5, 187 guard, is averaging 16.7 points, 6.4 assists and 5.4 rebounds. The fourth freshman starter, 6-9, 213 Wenyen Gabriel, is scoring 5.4 points per game while adding 5.4 rebounds.
Isaiah Briscoe, a 6-3, 210 sophomore guard, is averaging 15.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists.
“We were blessed and fortunate enough to get Bam Adebayo to come visit Auburn,” Pearl said. “What an incredible young man. In personality, he's nothing like he plays. He is a beast on the basketball court and he is a student athlete, a scholar and a gentleman and just a great kid, great family, humble, and he's got a great future in front of him. He is a load and they surround him with four guards that are all between 6-6,
“Fox is 6-6 and they’ve got a couple of guys at 6-9 or 6-10. They can all shoot, they can all pass, they can all bounce. They’re going to be guys in the NBA for a long, long time.
“People in the SEC, I don’t know that we appreciate having Kentucky in our league just for the ability to watch them play,” Pearl added. “I’m assuming the people in Kentucky and Lexington who love the game, places like Lexington or Chapel Hill or Lawrence, know what it’s supposed to look like. I hope they’re enjoying it because this is a real fun team to watch.”