ST. LOUIS | Trailing by 10 points at the half, the Alabama basketball team listened to its coach, Avery Johnson, as he spoke in what he called “understandable English.” Whatever was actually said, what the team heard seemed to be three little words.
“Do. Everything. Right.”
The Crimson Tide came as close to a flawless half as it has been all season, riding that 20 minutes to an 81-63 rout of the top-seeded Auburn Tigers and propelling UA into the Southeastern Conference semifinals for a second straight year.
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: ScottTrade Arena, St. Louis, Mo.
Records: Alabama 19-14, Kentucky 22-10
Freshman Collin Sexton poured in 31 points, eclipsing his 27-point total from Thursday night and igniting an early explosion that in turn triggered an avalanche, a 32-5 run that turned a 41-31 halftime deficit into a 17-point lead that UA maintained over the final 10 minutes.
“This is no magic formula,”Johnson said, sitting next to Sexton and sophomore Dazon Ingram in the UA post-game press conference. “I have two outstanding guards. They play with a lot of heart. They breed a lot of confidence into our team. And even in the first half today, when we didn’t play our best basketball, they’ll tell you, I didn’t raise my voice. I used understandable English, no bad words, and we just talked about how we needed to improve in the second half, and they did it.”
Ingram complemented Sexton’s play with an all-around 14-point, seven-rebound, five-assist performance.
The Crimson Tide got off to a slow start and Auburn hit seven first-half 3-pointers to build a double-digit lead, pushing Alabama precariously back onto the NCAA bubble. The second half, though, was a different matter. A Braxton Key dunk was followed by four straight 3-pointers, three by Sexton and a corner jumper by Ingram that gave Alabama its first lead at 45-42 with 15:42 remaining.
By the time Auburn scored its first field goal of the second half — a Mustapha Heron jumper with 9:43 remaining — the Alabama lead had ballooned to 15 points, a comfortable margin that the Crimson Tide maintained.
“They came down and flipped the tape on us really quickly,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “We didn’t get good looks offensively early. Our zone wasn’t nearly as effective, and they made some shots and got a couple of loose balls, and next thing you know, it’s close.
“And Sexton is a tremendous, tremendous individual player,” Pearl added. “I mean, he’s a tough cover, and he can get downhill and get to the rim. We weren’t able to protect the rim in our defense.”
The main drama for Alabama after it built its big lead was the status of center Donta Hall, who took a hard fall and hit his head on the hardwood floor on a defensive play in the second half. There was no immediate word on Hall’s status in Johnson’s post-game press conference.
Heron led Auburn (25-7) with 18 points. Desean Murray added 15, all in the first half.
Alabama (19-14) will face No. 4 seed Kentucky in Saturday’s noon semifinal.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.