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By Keith Taylor, firstname.lastname@example.org
LEXINGTON — Nerlens Noel is used to getting shoved around in the post. That’s why he didn’t blink when Auburn used an aggressive approach against the Wildcats Saturday at Rupp Arena.
In a contest that featured 40 personal fouls, two technical fouls and one ejection, Noel and the Cats held their composure and notched their fourth consecutive victory and seventh win in the past eight games with a 72-62 triumph over the Tigers.
Although the physical nature of the contest effected the flow of the contest, Nerlens wasn’t surprised by Auburn’s game plan.
“We’re getting used to it now,” Noel said. “Every team is going to come out (and play physical) with us and that’s going to be their game plan – try to get physical with us and try to beat us up inside and out but we’ve gotten used to it and use it to our advantage. We’re not a team that’s going to back down from that. We’re definitely used to it.”
Nerlens said the Cats used the physical approach to their own advantage “to wear them out.” The scheme worked, but it took awhile to put the Tigers away for good.
“If they want to put that much energy into being physical besides playing basketball, then we’ll just play smarter and use it to our advantage,” he said. “We just stayed composed. We’re still getting better and we don’t need any of that negativity. It messes them all up when they play that hard and we just knock down a three and Julius (Mays) takes it off the dribble. It just gets them all mixed up.”
Noel made just one field goal, but had a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds against the Tigers. He recorded just one block, which occurred late in the second half. Despite just one block, his lowest output in the past 15 games, Noel was satisfied with his outing against the Tigers and more pleased with the outcome.
“It was a little frustrating at times, but as long as my team is doing well and we’re rebounding the misses, then everything is fine,” he said. “I was aware (that I didn’t have as many blocks) but my team was winning. I knew what they were doing and what their strategy was, keeping me away (from the basket) (and) just trying to keep me away from the basket by putting the man I was guarding in the perimeter, but it’s all good as long as we were rebounding the misses and it was all fine.”
Auburn presented the Cats with a physical challenge, but Noel said the Tigers weren’t the cream of the crop in the conference and gave the nod to Mississippi. He cautioned other teams who attempt to emulate Auburn’s game plan in the future.
“If they want to play like that, they’ll foul out their whole front line on a different night and we’ll use it to our advantage with our size,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with that.”
Noel admitted that taking over first place in the Southeastern Conference isn’t “our focus right now” going into Tuesday’s contest against Florida in Gainesville. He added that Cats aren’t getting too hyped for the anticipated showdown between the two conference foes.
“We’re not riding too high and we’re not riding low,” he said. “Right now, we’re a confident team and we have good momentum and we’ll be prepared for (the Florida) game. Our focus is continuing to get better and make sure that we stay focused on what we need to do.”