Moses Kingsley (above) is a key performer for Arkansas.
Auburn, Ala.--Preparing to face an up-tempo Arkansas team that features a veteran roster and four players scoring in double figures, Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said that his basketball team will be challenged on Saturday.
Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Auburn Arena as the Razorbacks (21-7 overall, 10-5 SEC) look to solidify their status as a likely NCAA Tournament team.
Auburn, which is 17-11 overall and 6-9 in the SEC, is trying to position itself for a bid to a postseason tournament, although the NCAA Tournament appears highly unlikely.
“Offensively, boy, they are really good,”?Pearl said. “They are deep, they are tough, they are athletic, they shoot it from three, they shoot it from free.
“They and Florida are two of the best transition teams in the country,”?Pearl declared. “Florida came in here and put 114 on us. Arkansas is undefeated when they score more than 80. We average giving up 85. You do the math.”
Arkansas is averaging 79.7 points per contest in SEC games and 81.1 in all games. Auburn is averaging 80.4 points in SEC games and 80.5 overall.
Dusty Hannahs a 6-3 senior transfer from Texas Tech, is averaging a team-leading 14.5 points per game for the Razorbacks. He is one of three guards in the Arkansas starting lineup.
The No. 2 scorer for the Razorbacks, 6-3 junior guard Daryl Macon, is expected to come off the bench. He is averaging 13.7 points.
Two Razorbacks are averaging 11.9 points. One of those players, 6-10, 230 senior Moses Kingsley, leads the Razorbacks in rebounds at 7.8 per game and in blocks at 2.7. Jaylen Barford, a 6-3 junior guard, is averaging 3.6 rebounds and has averaged 18 points in his past three games.
Dustin Thomas, a 6-8, 225 junior forward, is averaging 5.5 points and 4.2 rebounds. The other starter, 6-2 senior guard Manuale Watkins, is averaging 6.1 points and 3.7 rebounds. He scored a season high 13 points in an 86-77 win over visiting Texas A&M?on Wednesday.
“There is a lot at stake for both teams,” said Pearl, whose Tigers took a 98-75 road win on Tuesday vs. LSU. “Arkansas is in the (NCAA) field right now and we are trying to get into a postseason field and trying to build on what we have done to this point, how hard we have ground and how hard we have worked to be in position.”
Mustapha Heron, who is 11th in the SEC in scoring, leads the Tigers in points per game (15.0). The freshman guard is also AU’s top rebounder with 5.8 per contest.
Auburn’s other double figures scorers, guard Jared Harper (11.8 points, 2.7 assists per game) and forward Danjel Purifoy (11.5 points, 4.8 rebounds) are also freshmen as is the No. 4 scorer, Austin Wiley (9.1 points, 4.7 rebounds).
Jared Haper has been SEC Freshman of the Week two times this season.
Pearl said his Tigers are going to have to play very well to hang with the Razorbacks. “You look at their roster and it’s loaded with juniors and seniors. Those guys know how close it is to being this is it so a guy like Moses Kingsley, with his leadership, he wants to get back to the NCAA Tournament in the worst way because this is it. You have great respect for that so they are going to come in on fire. We are going to have to match and meet that intensity.”
Following Saturday night’s game, which will be televised by the SEC Network, the Tigers will wrap up the regular season with a Wednesday game at Georgia before returning home for a Saturday game vs. Missouri.
The SEC Tournament is scheduled for March 8-12 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.