In answering questions about the University of Alabama basketball team’s rematch with Auburn, Jimmie Taylor, the Crimson Tide power forward, offered a paradox.
“That game two weeks ago left a feeling in our mind,” Taylor said. “But we’ve gotten over it. We’ve watched the film, we’ve learned from it.
“I grew up in Alabama, so (the rivalry) is deep, but we try to take it like any other game.”
Perhaps Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson had the best attempt at unraveling Taylor’s Zen-like answer.
“We have to bounce back from our last game (an 18-point loss at Arkansas on Wednesday night),” Johnson said. “That was one of our worst performances of the season. I’d say we played maybe eight to 10 good minutes of basketball in that game, and that was all. So now we’ve got to show what one of my mentors, Gregg Popovich, used to call ‘fiber.’ We’ve got to show fiber.”
Alabama ran out of fiber about three-quarters of the way through its last meeting with Auburn. The Tigers won the first meeting in Jan. 21 by 20 points, 84-64, even though Alabama had a one-point lead with just over nine minutes to play.
Auburn shot the ball well from 3-point range in that game but the key to the Tigers’ success was primarily the strong inside play of Austin Wiley, a 6-foot-11 freshman who joined the Tigers earlier in the season. Wiley didn’t exactly come in as a mystery – he was a five-star prospect at Spain Park High School before fast-forwarding to prep school and then Auburn – but his 19-point, nine-rebound effort caused major difficulties for the Crimson Tide.
“He was the aggressor in that game,” Johnson said. “He had us on our heels. If we want to be successful, we can’t let him be the aggressor again.”
Like Alabama, Auburn has been inconsistent since that first meeting, sandwiching disappointing losses to South Carolina and Tennessee around an impressive road win at TCU.
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl was complimentary of Alabama in his Friday media gathering but also expressed excitement about the rematch.
“We’re excited about the challenge,” he said.”How often do you get to play Alabama with the chance to sweep them?”
Pearl also noted that Tiger forward Horace Spencer, who started in the first meeting and scored two points in 11 minutes, was “questionable” due to a shoulder injury suffered against Tennessee.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.