SEC Report:

Auburn washing out 'taste'

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl talks with Auburn guard Bryce Brown (2), Auburn guard Jared Harper, center, and Auburn guard Mustapha Heron (5) during a time out in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn.
Photo by Associated Press
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl talks with Auburn guard Bryce Brown (2), Auburn guard Jared Harper, center, and Auburn guard Mustapha Heron (5) during a time out in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Bruce Pearl's Auburn Tigers have developed into the top story in the SEC.

The Tigers (16-1, 4-0 SEC), who advanced to No. 17 in The Associated Press Top 25 on Monday, extended the nation's longest winning streak to 14 games by rallying for a 76-68 victory at Mississippi State on Saturday.

Auburn trailed by as many as 12 points and rebounded from a 35-24 deficit at halftime to claim its second SEC road victory after a 94-84 decision at Tennessee in its conference opener.

Pearl, in his fourth season, is trying to keep his team from getting caught up in the hype of the winning streak, Auburn's longest since 2000.

"For me, it's just we've got Alabama on Wednesday," Pearl said on Saturday in Starkville, Miss. "We've got to get better to be able to win this league. We have 14 games left. We could win them all, we could lose them all. Where we are right now is fine ... but we're taking them one at a time. Don't get too high, don't get too low."

Pearl said last year's club didn't finish possessions or games with enough toughness and "as a result we won 18 games instead of 22 and didn't make the postseason. We had to sit and suck on that all year, all offseason, and it didn't taste very well."

The Tigers returned seven players from last season, a high under Pearl, and the veterans have made a stronger commitment to team play, Pearl said.

"Their will to win is greater and their sacrifice is greater," he said. "They're holding each other accountable. Like, you can coach them hard and they, for the most part, listen. And they can get after each other without being sensitive."

Pearl referenced the SEC's "It just means more" slogan when talking about having two buses of fans traveling to Starkville for the road game.

"I admire and marvel at SEC football and the camaraderie of the visiting team and the home team and the tailgating traditions," he said. "It just means more.

"Why not in basketball? It made for a better crowd. We should travel. Kentucky travels. When you play Kentucky, there's a ton of blue in the house. That's one of the next steps in the development of the program."

'T' for tantrum

LSU Coach Will Wade drew a technical foul after slamming his hands on the scorer's table and screaming at officials with 1:10 remaining and the Tigers trailing Alabama 66-61 in what became a 74-66 loss on Saturday.

Wade apologized for his actions Monday.

"I'm disappointed in how I reacted on Saturday," Wade said. "I saw the clips after the game. I let my emotions get the best of me."

Wade took exception on a kicked-ball call against LSU guard Tremont Waters and another unspecified call that led to his outburst.

"I won't get into specifics, but there was two plays," Wade said Saturday. "I've got to do a better job with that. The problem is I was frustrated because we didn't fight like we needed to fight.

"We weren't as tough as we needed to be. I'm so competitive and want to win, and sometimes you want it too much."

'Palm' reading

CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm had seven SEC teams in his Monday NCAA Tournament bracket projection, with Alabama and Texas A&M both listed in his "first four out," and Georgia among his "last four in."

The seven SEC teams Palm has in the field are 2 seed Auburn, 4 seeds Kentucky and Tennessee, 7 seeds Arkansas and Florida, 10 seed Missouri and 11 seed Georgia.

Bubble teams

SEC Network analysts Pat Bradley and Daymeon Fishback were generous when discussing the SEC bubble teams for the NCAA Tournament after Saturday's games.

The duo put five of the six SEC teams they considered on the bubble into the NCAA field, with Fishback selecting Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M to make the tourney, and Bradley opting to put his alma mater Arkansas and Missouri into the field, but leaving LSU out.

Host Dari Nowkhah set up the segment by saying Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida were considered safely in the NCAAs, while Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are currently out.

Road data

Eight SEC teams have posted league road victories, including two each by Auburn, Florida, Kentucky and LSU. Both sets of Tigers -- LSU and Auburn -- are 2-0 on the road.

But while Auburn is 4-0 to lead he SEC, LSU is 2-2, having lost both of its home games to Kentucky and Alabama while winning at Texas A&M and Arkansas.

Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee have won one road game each. Arkansas, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt have yet to win a road game.

Sagging Aggies

Texas A&M had an 11-1 record and No. 5 ranking in the AP poll entering SEC play. The Aggies fell to 0-5 in the SEC with Saturday's loss at Tennessee.

The five-game skid featured a pair of 1-point losses, 69-68 at home against LSU and 74-73 at Kentucky, before the Volunteers won 75-62.

Coach Billy Kennedy used his eighth different starting lineup against the Vols, going with JJ Caldwell, Admon Gilder, DJ Hogg, Robert Williams and Tyler Davis.

"It's a tough league," Kennedy said. "You can't have some of the things we've been through the last couple of weeks -- not having starters and starting different lineups every game -- going into a league that's this good right now.

"You've got to be at your best every night. If you're not at your best, you're going to get beat. That's what's shown up for us. We've played really good teams and we haven't had our best foot forward."

The Aggies will try to snap their five-game skid tonight at 8 against Ole Miss.

Top players

The SEC named Tennessee's Grant Williams and Kentucky's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as players of the week Monday.

Gilgeous-Alexander, a 6-6 guard from Hamilton, Ontario, was selected as SEC Freshman of the Week after averaging 19 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 39 minutes per game in victories over Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.

Williams, a 6-7 sophomore from Charlotte, N.C., earned SEC Player of the Week honors for averaging 23 points and six rebounds in victories over Vanderbilt and Texas A&M.

Big-win weekend

The average margin of victory for SEC teams on Saturday was 7.3 points, with six of the seven games decided by six or more points. Only Arkansas' 65-63 home victory over Missouri was decided on the final possession.

The only truly comfortable margin, however, came in Tennessee's 75-62 victory over Texas A&M at Thompson-Boling Arena.

'Bear hug'

Kentucky escaped with a 74-73 victory over Texas A&M last Tuesday at Rupp Arena after the officials made no call on the final play. The Aggies threw a long inbounds pass toward Tyler Davis with four seconds remaining after Kentucky's PJ Washington missed a pair of free throws.

Replays appeared to show Kentucky forward Wenyen Gabriel holding Davis during the play, on which the ball sailed over their heads and out of bounds.

"At the end there, I didn't see what happened, but that's a tough call for somebody to make," Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said. "I know my guy is telling me it was a bear hug, but I don't know if the clock went out on them or what happened there. It's something I've got to go watch."

Tip-ins

• Auburn took over the SEC lead in scoring last week, increasing its average to 86.5 points per game to surpass Arkansas (85.1), which scored 54 and 65 points while splitting games against LSU and Missouri.

• Arkansas is shooting an SEC-low 59.6 percent on free throws in SEC games, with Mississippi State (61.6) in 13th place and Alabama (83.1) first.

• Ole Miss guard Deandre Burnett has scored 20 points in back-to-back games after missing an 85-70 loss to Auburn with the flu.

• Tennessee snapped a three-game losing streak to Texas A&M at Thompson-Boling Arena with Saturday's 75-62 victory over the Aggies.

(SEC hoops report, for 1.16)

FROM TOP TO BOTTOM

RANK;LAST WEEK;RPI;TEAM (RECORDS);COMMENT

1;2;6;Auburn (16-1, 4-0);14-game winning streak tops in nation

2;3;10;Kentucky (14-3, 4-1);Cats give Cal fight he wants in two close wins

3;4;13;Tennessee (12-4, 3-2);Vols picking up steam with 3 Ws in a row

4;1;40;Florida (12-5, 4-1);Lacking inside presence vs. Razorbacks

5;11;39;Alabama (11-6, 3-2);Critical road victory in Baton Rouge

6;13;92;Ole Miss (10-7, 3-2);Clear improvement since start of SEC

7;8;65;LSU (11-5, 2-2);2-0 in SEC road games, 0-2 in SEC home games

8;6;21;Arkansas (12-5, 2-3);13th in the SEC in free-throw percentage (.665)

9;7;35;Missouri (12-5, 2-2);Showing more backbone under Cuonzo Martin

10;9;33; Texas A&M (11-6, 0-5);Hosts Ole Miss, Missouri while looking to end skid

11;12;55;South Carolina (11-6, 2-3);League-worst 41.0 FG percentage

12;5;56;Georgia (11-5, 2-3);At LSU and Auburn after home loss to SC

13;10;75; Miss. State (13-4, 1-3);Shooting SEC-worst .297 from 3-point range

14;14;148;Vanderbilt (6-11, 1-4);Normally strong shooting team at .414 FGs

The Ratings Percentage Index is a scale used by the NCAA Selection Committee to rank Division I basketball teams by their performance in light of strength of schedule. Low RPI ranking numbers denote strong teams; and high numbers, weaker ones.

Game of the week

Arkansas at Florida, Wednesday 6 p.m. (ESPN2)

The Razorbacks have a recent history of controversial calls against them at the O'Connell Center -- seemingly phantom fouls on Alandise Harris and Moses Kingsley come to mind -- and have not won at Florida since 1995. The Gators should be hungry after letting a lead slip away at Ole Miss.

By the numbers

3

Winning streak by Tennessee, the second longest in the SEC behind Auburn's 14

6

SEC teams without a conference road victory (Arkansas, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt)

12

SEC teams in the top 75 of the NCAA RPI rankings, the most in the nation

18

Free throws made and attempted by Alabama in its 74-66 victory at LSU

Sports on 01/16/2018

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