The sophomore made the most of the opportunity, dropping 28 points on the rival Tide. Auburn won 88-76 over its in-state foe, improving to 4-8 in conference and 14-11 overall. Alabama drops to 3-9 in the SEC and 14-13 on the season.
"We started Lucas today," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "I guess I'm dumb--we should have started him the whole year. Twenty-eight points today, he was awfully good today, we needed them all today."
Lebo made the decision to start Hargrove following DeWayne Reed's subpar performance against Tennessee. He said that he felt Reed would be able to play better coming off the bench and that decision proved to be a difference maker against Alabama.
"I'm awfully proud of my team, I thought we played awfully well today," Lebo said. "We made some adjustments and they handled it pretty well."
Auburn's defense and rebounding were keys to the victory. The Tigers grabbed 25 defensive rebounds in the game which forced the taller Tide team to only have one shooting opportunity on many key trips down the floor. Auburn also forced 13 turnovers in the contest as Lebo changed defensive looks several times in the contest, which helped them come back from an Alabama lead that reached as much as 10 in the first half.
"Basketball is a momentum game," Hargrove said. "You can be down 10, you can be down 20, you are still in the game so there is no panic. Now, if you get down 30, 40 it is a different story."
In front of the largest crowd of the season, a sellout of 10,500, Lucas Hargrove and seniors Frank Tolbert and Quan Prowell put on a show. Tolbert scored 10 points, grabbed three rebounds and had three assists. At one point, Tolbert was knocked to the floor on a shot attempt and had to leave the game. He returned to a thunderous ovation, which helped spark the Tigers to hold on to their lead late in the second half.
"I fell on my back and it (the pain) started going down my back and my legs so I had to come out a little bit," Tolbert said.
Auburn's three-point shooting was another part of the Tigers' success. Auburn made 12 threes, including several at just the right time to get the crowd back into a frenzy.
"They just went in today," Lebo said. "We want to shoot a lot of them. When we make them from out there, it gets teams spread out. A lot of teams are playing small against us now. That helps us because now they have their second big guy off of the court."
It was Hargrove's day. He shot 9-12 from the field and 3-6 from three. He also improved his free-throw shooting to the tune of 7-9 from the line. Hargrove added two steals, two blocks, six rebounds, and three assists filling out the box score.
His 28 points were five more than he has had in the previous five games combined. His confidence helped his teammates keep shooting and continue scoring as he got the crowd into it and punctuated the excitement of the game with his play.
"The way Lucas is, he will have his good days and his bad days and today was one of those great days," Tolbert said. "Lucas is one of the most confident people I have ever met. It doesn't matter if he plays bad, plays good, he is still going to come out with the mentality that he is going to work hard and then good things are going to happen for him."
Hargrove's previous high point total this season was against Charleston Southern on Nov. 19, 2007. He has been constantly improving this season and his minutes have increased due to the injuries that Auburn has suffered.
"I feel like I am a go-getter," Hargrove said. "We didn't come to lose. A lot of y'all (media) write about how we got injuries and stuff, and that's true, and we got this and we got that, but we didn't come to lose. Every team in the nation has injuries, every team in the nation has people out. We come to win and we come to play hard."
Quan Prowell shoots a three over Richard Hendrix.
Prowell had 22 points, even though he battled foul trouble most of the game. His quickness and size were matchup problems for the Tide most of the game. He was able to spread the floor, forcing Richard Hendrix to guard the perimeter and freeing up the lane for Auburn's driving guards. Alabama would also switch defenders on him, leaving a shorter guard to cover the 6-8 Prowell. He was then able to use his back-to-the-basket moves to post-up the smaller defender.
"We watched a lot of film on them and noticed that on-ball screens and most of the game he (Hendrix) just sits in the paint and doesn't come out" Prowell said. "That works against most big men in this league, but the way we play, with four guards, everybody can shoot so he had to come out and it worked to our advantage."
"It was frustrating (getting into foul trouble)," Prowell said. "I felt like they were kind of ticky-tack fouls. You get away with them most times, but I didn't today. I just tried to play aggressive, but it didn't work so I had to sit out."
Alabama was led by Alonzo Gee, who scored 18, and Richard Hendrix, who added 16 points. Before the game, many wondered if the shorter Tigers would be able to find an answer for Hendrix. Instead, the bruising junior forward was held in check most of the game.
"We mixed and played a lot of defenses there," Lebo said, adding, "including one they hadn't seen before and I think that it was effective. We played a little triangle-and-two on the guards. We hadn't shown that at all this year. It kept people around him (Hendrix).
"We triangled the two guys who are pretty good at passing the ball away so we tried to keep it out of their hands--(Brandon) Hollinger and (Mykal) Riley. I thought the kids executed that defense really well."
Auburn overcame a tumultuous first half that saw the Tigers not take care of the basketball and not get into much of a flow on offense. Lebo's Tigers turned the ball over eight times in the first 7:30.
"We had a stretch the first half where it felt like we had eight turnovers in a row," Lebo said. "In the second half, we started to take care of the ball better."
It is now mathematically impossible for Alabama to finish this season with a winning conference record. In fact, Auburn is now in position to have a better regular season record this season than the Tide, a first in the Jeff Lebo era. This season has been a disappointing one for the fans in Tuscaloosa. One of the factors leading to the Tide's problems is guard Ronald Steele missing the entire season due to injury.
"One guy can make a huge difference in basketball," Lebo said. "The right guy makes a big, big difference. We are playing without two of our guys, three of our guys, four of our guys. We have so many guys out--we've got more guys out than suits in a Men's Warehouse."
The win gives Auburn three wins in its last four meetings with the Tide. It was also important for seniors like Tolbert to get a win in his last regular season meeting with his in-state rivals.
"It feels good," Tolbert said. "I'll be able to say I beast Alabama my last time playing them. It feels good because If I would have lost I wouldn't have a chance to redeem myself."