On Jan. 23, 2007, Auburn beat 12th-ranked Alabama 81-57. Many Auburn players called it the biggest win thus far in their careers. A month and a day later, that could all be forgotten as the Tigers make the trip to Tuscaloosa where they haven't won since 1999.
"Alabama will be ready, prepared and hungry to play this game," says Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo. "We know we're going into a hostile place where Alabama is 13-1 at home. They'll be a little mad after their overtime defeat, too, to Tennessee. We played one of our best games of the year here against them. It'll take another one of those if we're going to have a chance up there.
"It's hard to beat anybody twice," he adds. "It's hard to beat anybody once. Psychologically you have an advantage when you play a team and they beat you the first time around, and then obviously playing at home. In a rival game that shifts the mojo in their favor a little bit."
In his third year as Auburn head coach, Lebo is 1-4 against the Crimson Tide and 0-2 at Alabama.
"It's going to be a hostile environment," he notes. "It's going to be loud and they're going to have some pressure on them. They're playing at home and they're still in the thick of things still for an SEC (West) championship and NCAA bid, so we've got to keep it there as long as we can and as tight as we can. Then maybe we can make some plays at the end."
Alabama is 19-8 overall and 6-7 in the SEC with a strong chance to make the field of 65. Auburn, at 15-13, 5-8, would need to win out against Alabama, LSU and at Ole Miss and also go deep into the SEC tournament to get a strong look at an NCAA bid.
However, two or three more wins and Auburn would have a good chance to make the NIT. A win on Saturday would go a long way toward that goal.
"We haven't talked about postseason," Lebo explains. "I haven't. They may have talked about it amongst themselves. My philosophy is we'll let that play out when it comes. The next one at hand is a big one for us. We talked about conference and where we are in the conference, but we haven't really talked about postseason--SEC tournament, NIT or NCAA. I haven't talked with them."
"Struggling" would be an understatement on the status of Rasheem Barrett and Quan Prowell offensively for the Tigers. Because of that freshman DeWayne Reed will likely start his second game of the season and run the point guard for the Tigers on Saturday. Forwards Josh Dollard and Korvotney Barber and guards Frank Tolbert and Quantez Robertson are the other likely starters.
"Reed in the last two games has been a factor," Lebo notes. "It's helped us a little bit because we've had some guys in that middle area (2-4 positions) struggling that we've had to move Reed in there and move Tez (Robertson) to the two-guard a little bit. I think it's helped Tez a little bit even, too.
"The thing about Reed is that he's a very good on-the-ball defender," he adds. "Tez is not as strong as Reed there. Tez is better off the ball and he played a lot on (Patrick) Beverley and did terrific. He graded out 26 good to one bad defensively. He's good off the ball and getting through screens. Reed is getting better without Tez, but he's more comfortable out on the floor when Tez is out there with him."
The Alabama offense starts with point guard Ronald Steele, who hasn't been close to full speed all season, so Reed's defense should be an asset against the Tide.
Jermareo Davidson has been a solid player for coach Mark Gottfried for the last four seasons, and making defense against the Tide even tougher is sophomore Richard Hendrix, who has been near the top of his game lately. However, he had only four points in the loss to Auburn earlier this season.
"Their two inside guys are as good as any two in the country," Lebo says. "I think he had some foul problems here in the first game. They didn't play well and we played as good as we can play. We know where they're probably going with the ball. They're going to try to pound it in there."
Only six players logged 19-plus minutes for Alabama in the earlier loss to Auburn, but Lebo says Gottfried has played around with his personnel a bit since then.
"They played different (against Tennessee)," Lebo says. "They played different people. Mark sat some guys down and actually played his bench. (Justin) Tubbs played a lot, (Mikhail) Torrence played a bunch and he hasn't hardly played. They played (Demetrius) Jamison a lot of minutes and sat (Richard) Gee and Steele. They came back in the game against Tennessee and played pretty well with those guys on the bench."