The message Bruce Pearl had for his players after Auburn basketball’s loss at No. 2 Baylor last Saturday was “if we didn’t make adjustments, this was going to continue.” And it did.
“Georgia beat us the same way that Baylor beat us, and there’s plenty of tape on it. So our guys are going to see this for the rest of the year,” Pearl said after the Tigers’ 91-86 loss Tuesday.
So what are those adjustments? Well, Pearl declined to go into specific detail as Auburn (10-9, 4-6 SEC) got ready to host Ole Miss (9-8, 4-6) on Saturday (3 p.m., ESPN2) with hopes of stopping a two-game skid. He didn’t want to tell the teams on the Tigers’ schedule “this is exactly where you should go to beat us because this is where we’re weak.”
OLE MISS 72, AUBURN 61:What we learned the first time the Tigers and Rebels met
But it’s not hard to pick out a few areas where improvement would help Auburn get back on track:
The biggest culprit in the loss to the Bulldogs, by far. Georgia got into the paint at will, making 26 of 44 dunk or layup attempts on its way to 52 points – the most the Tigers have allowed since a Nov. 27 loss to No. 1 Gonzaga.
It wasn’t an outlier. Auburn ranks 176th nationally allowing opponents to make 49.9% of their 2-point shots, and that’s despite leading the nation with 117 blocked shots. That length helps them recover, but it doesn’t solve the problem of not being able to consistently stay in front of drivers or help in time.
The Rebels, who are much better at scoring inside than they are outside, will test that again. Veteran guards Devontae Shuler and Jarkel Joiner are adept drivers of the basketball, averaging 14.9 and 10.8 points, respectively, despite taking more than 62% of their shots from inside the arc.
Handling the 1-3-1 zone
This is an improvement specific to Ole Miss. This brand of defense from Kermit Davis’ team has bothered Pearl-coached teams for years, even going back to when Davis was at Middle Tennessee State and Pearl at Tennessee.
Auburn scored a season-low 61 points in an 11-point loss in Oxford on Jan. 6. It shot just 36.1% from the floor (its second-worst mark of the season) and turned the ball over 16 times.
That was the only game this season that the Tigers played without both Justin Powell (who suffered a concussion Jan. 2) and Sharife Cooper (who debuted Jan. 9). Having Cooper running things in Saturday’s rematch should help. But there is a scouting report on him out there now, and it’s telling defenses to throw double-teams at him, play physical and force the ball out of his hands.
Cooper is shooting 41% with a 21-to-11 assist-to-turnover ratio over his last three games.
Getting off to better starts
Players got Wednesday off. When they returned Thursday, Pearl said it took them about three-quarters of practice to finally to get going again.
“We ended practice well,” Pearl said. “But it took us a long time to get there.”
That’s indicative of how the Tigers have played in some of their games, too. Baylor hammered them with a 31-15 run to start the second half. They came out flat to start the game against Georgia, making just 4 of their first 15 shots. They trailed by as many as 16 points late in the first half in Oxford.
“The thing I’ve told my guys is, historically, what we do doesn’t work if we’re not flying around. It just doesn’t. And so Georgia flew around, we didn’t, and that was the result,” Pearl said. “We won’t win if we don’t fly around.”
Josh Vitale is the Auburn beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoshVitale. To reach him by email, click here.