AUBURN, Alabama — Pick a card. Any card.
There are several ways Auburn coach Bruce Pearl can motivate his team heading into today’s game against Georgia.
A loss at Ole Miss earlier this week should be enough motivation, but there’s also history on the line against the Bulldogs. Oh, and there’s the fact several players still feel burned by Georgia’s lack of interest during their recruiting days.
“The storyline is still the same for a lot of our guys,” Pearl said. “I’ve got a lot of guys on this roster from Georgia and many of them weren’t recruited by Georgia. Jared Harper or Bryce Brown or Malik Dunbar or Anfernee McLemore, a lot of guys that came here because they felt like they were overlooked. We still, I think, have to play with that chip on our shoulder. We have an opportunity if we can beat Georgia to be three straight. We haven’t done that since 2000. Again, from a standpoint of trying to make history in one of the longest-going rivalries, it would be good. The students will be back. The Jungle will be back. I’m excited about the atmosphere, but the atmosphere alone isn’t going to win us the game. We’ve got to play better.”
And that’s the biggest issue heading into the 3 p.m. tipoff on ESPN2: execution. The No. 11 Tigers’ half court offense has not been up to par lately. The transition offense looks just fine, with Brown and Harper trading 3-pointers on the run in nearly every game, but the frontcourt has struggled (six points in the paint in the 82-67 loss at Ole Miss) and the Tigers look out of sorts when the pace slows down on offense.
Auburn fought back from a 13-point deficit at Ole Miss to pull within one possession three times in the second half. Part of the reason is a matter of logistics: Auburn was in front of the Tigers’ bench in the second half on the road and Pearl was able to better communicate with his point guards, whether it was Harper or J’Von McCormick.
“We need to work harder offensively to not settle for our spacing,” Pearl said. “When I talk about slopping through things, sometimes you can go through the offense, but if you don’t really care enough to compete to get in spots on the floor or the timing, the screening, the cutting, things like that, nothing is going to work. It’s not what you do; it’s how you do it, and I thought while we’ve been putting forth pretty good effort defensively, we’ve been resting on offense. Transition offense has been great, and that obviously carried us in that game.”
The Bulldogs (9-5, 1-1) come to Auburn following a victory against Vanderbilt, a team Ole Miss beat by 10 points on the road last week. They traveled to Auburn by bus Friday but did so without first-year head coach Tom Crean. Crean traveled to Detroit to be with his ill mother but is expected to be in Auburn for the game.
Georgia is led by a three-headed scoring attack in the frontcourt. Rayshaun Hammonds averaged 14.2 points per game, Nicolas Claxton leads the way nearly averaging a double-double with 9.9 rebounds per game and Derek Ogbeide is the best bet underneath the basket (52.3 shooting percentage).
“I don’t know if they’re as good as last year but I do know they’re probably a little bigger, which will cause some challenges for us a little bit just because I feel like their 3 is about 6-8, 6-7,” Brown said. “I feel like they have a little bigger guard play. That could give us a challenge. We could probably play a little faster against them because of that, get the speed of the game sped up. I feel like that will catch them off guard. I still feel like they’re a pretty good team just because of how aggressive they are on the glass. That will be a thing for us: keeping them off the glass, forcing them to not use their size over us.”