By LARRY VAUGHT
After some of the struggles he’s had career-wise in recent years, I love the way Auburn coach Bruce Pearl analyzed his team dropping from No. 8 to 10th in the recent Associated Press poll after losing a home game to Texas A&M.
“Auburn drops to 10. I’ve been working so hard to maybe wake up in the morning and read the front page that says ‘Auburn drops to 10’. That’s great,” Pearl said Monday.
Auburn hosts Kentucky Wednesday night. The Tigers already lead the SEC and drop UK below .500 in the SEC if they beat Kentucky.
The Tigers bounced back from the home loss to Texas A&M by winning at Georgia Saturday even though leading scorer/top defender Bryce Brown did not play because of an ankle injury.
“I’m really proud of our guys for Saturday. A lot of it is because I have a lot of respect for their program and their talent. They’re on the bubble when we go over there. We have eight guys, and seven when Desean Murray gets a full body cramp in the second half. Jared [Harper] was brilliant. Mustapha [Heron] has that next-level ability, and he’s doing it on both ends. Davion Mitchell’s defense was just incredible,” Pearl said.
Pearl said Monday he didn’t know “all the particulars” about Kentucky other than coach John Calipari had six McDonald’s All-Americans and Auburn has none.
He also defended Kentucky from some criticism the Cats have been getting this year with six league losses and eight losses overall.
“A couple of things that are misunderstood about Kentucky is they’re a big target and they’re easy to criticize because they are the chosen, but they play hard,” Pearl said. “Kentucky kids play hard. When I say that, I mean they play harder than some of the other teams in our league.”
Okay Bruce. Enough is enough. Kentucky can play well at times and hard at times, but has not done either consistently. And even coach John Calipari has talked about his team’s lack of effort.
What else about UK?
“They are really long, and we’ve been bothered by teams like Texas A&M and Alabama who do a great job with using their length. We’ll have those kind of challenges,” the Auburn coach said.
“How much do you extend and make Kentucky better? At the same time, if we don’t extend and let them get close to the basket, they’re going to be really good. I’m really impressed with [Shai] Gilgeous-Alexander. In my mind with going through the league, Alexander and Jared are the top guards in the league.
“He’s [Gilgeous-Alexander] is really good. He’s really good in the ball screen, play making outside of the ball screen and it’s just going to be a tough cover for us.”
Pearl hopes Brown can play against Kentucky. He was going to go through limited practice Monday with no contact.
“He’s moving a little bit, so he has a better chance to play on Wednesday than he did on Saturday,” Pearl said Monday. “If he can have contact tomorrow, if he can hit tomorrow, he will play Wednesday. For me, the dunking wouldn’t be the issue. It would be defensively like if he gets it thrown back again, how he’ll feel. He has to be able to play.”