Alabama blew out previously undefeated and 4th ranked auburn to improve to 9-7 (2-2) on the season. The win improves the team's NET ranking to 44th.
It's encouraging that this team is finding new ways to win games. The 3 point shot wasn't there last night, but the Tide made up for it with defense,, rebounding, driving the lane, and free throws.
JP hit an early 3 to give Bama a 5-0 lead and set the tone. The Tigers struggled mightily from the field and from the free throw line in the first half, while Alabama's offense was only marginally better. We methodically built a 14 point lead, but allowed auburn to score the last 5 points of the half so we only led 36-27 going into the locker room.
The end of the first half and beginning of the second half gave me flashbacks to the Florida game. The war eagles cut the lead to 3 by the 15 minute mark, but we almost immediately pushed it back to 8. We only shot 6 of 21 from 3-point range, but those six makes all seemed to come at crucial moments when auburn was trying to make a run. The final one by Kira to stretch the lead from 11 to 14 essentially put the game away.
Once again, the bigs played well in mitigating an apparent mis-match. Austin Wiley had a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds but was limited to only 20 minutes of playing time. We put Alex in at the 5, and Wiley didn't have the quickness to defend him. We drove the ball at him and got him in foul trouble. At one point we ran 3 or 4 high ball screens with Alex in a row, and that put Wiley in the difficult position of having to stay near the perimeter or switch on a guard. Bruce pulled him out of the game after Beetle burned him on a couple of switches.
They were killing us early on the boards, but thankfully weren't able to cash in, as they had several possessions where they missed 3 or 4 shots. The rebounding improved as the game went on, and we were only out-rebounded by 2. Rebounding is a team effort with this squad. Often the guards crash and may not be able to secure the ball, but they at least are able to tip it away from the opposing center to give another teammate a chance.
The Plainsmen tried the Kentucky game-plan of running us off the 3-point line, but they don't have the size on the wings that UK does, and without Wiley to protect the rim, Kira was able to destroy them on the dribble drive. When we didn't score we got to the line and made 29 of 37 free throws compared to auburn's 17 of 30.
Kira ended up with 25 points including 8 of 9 from the line. Herb had an outstanding all-around game. He finished with a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds and was a lock-down defender, drawing several charges. Alex was 3 of 6 from the three point range and finished with 13 points. Beetle had 11 points and was a force defensively. JP only scored 7, but he had 7 rebounds and also played solid defense.
The crowd was a big factor in the game. It was a packed house, and the atmosphere was as loud throughout as I can ever remember. auburn had not played in that type of hostile environment yet this year, and I think our guys fed off the energy. I think we actually got a little bit of "home cooking" from the officials for a change as well. Any time a questionable call would go against us, we would almost immediately get the "make-up" call. Barners will whine about it, but that's life on the road in the SEC and I fully expect to be on the other end of it when we go to their cow pasture next month. the officials are never the difference in a 19 point game.
There were about 1,000 auburn fans at the game, mostly up in the corners but also scattered throughout the better seats, including a group near us. They were loud and could be heard chanting "Let's Go auburn" during their second half run, but they were quickly drowned out. The ones near us weren't bad, except for complaining about our student section being "classless." Yes, they were chanting "F$%! you, auburn!" but that was in response to Daniel "who took my ACT?" Purifoy taunting them and flipping them off (after a freaking free throw, no less). I hope McLemore got a good look at our faces as we serenaded him with Rammer Jammer. The only thing that could have made this game better would have been a late game rendition of Dixieland Delight.
Up next, let's see how this team handles success. Mizzou comes to town Saturday for a 2:30 pm tipoff, and we need the same type of home court advantage. I can't imagine anybody going to the auburn game and not wanting to come back, so hopefully we will have another packed house. The game will be televised on SEC Network.