When the casual fan thinks of No. 9 Auburn, he might think of a fast-breaking team piling up points. And indeed, the Tigers can score a lot, averaging more than 80 points per game.
But if you really want to figure out why they are off to a 13-1 start and look more and more like a potential Final Four team, go watch them work the defensive end. That’s when you see why they’re looking to extend their winning streak to 11 games Saturday night when they host Florida.
The Tigers’ 81-66 Southeastern Conference win Tuesday night at South Carolina was an example of why they’re thriving. While they made 55 percent of their shots, they also forced 20 turnovers that were converted into 26 points.
“We were able to really guard them in the first half and didn’t get destroyed on the boards, which is what you’ve got to do against South Carolina,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “What we did defensively really disrupted South Carolina in the halfcourt and our depth was a factor.”
The Tigers got 40 points off their bench, including a game-high 22 from Wendell Green, his sixth straight game in double figures. Green added five rebounds and five assists in a solid all-around effort.
Auburn (13-1, 2-0 SEC) boasts four double-figure scorers for the season, led by freshman Jabari Smith at 15.7. Green averages 12.7, while K.D. Johnson adds 12.1 and North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler chips in 10.1 to go with 7.6 boards and 4.3 blocked shots.
Kessler, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, delivered a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double at South Carolina that also included four blocked shots. His 61 rejections are 14 more than the Tigers’ opponents.
“We’re a defensive team,” Green said. “Just starting with that, that’s how we’re going to win so many games.”
As for Florida (9-4, 0-1), it started out SEC play Wednesday night with an 83-70 home loss to 15th-ranked Alabama. The Gators led by three at halftime, but they were dominated in the second half. They weren’t able to take care of the ball or keep the Crimson Tide off the offensive boards.
Florida coughed up a season-high 20 turnovers while permitting 20 offensive rebounds, leading to Alabama squeezing off 20 more shots from the field.
“We have to come out in the second half throwing haymakers like we did at the beginning of the game,” Gators coach Mike White said. “I loved our energy at the tip.”
Colin Castleton scored 19 points to pace Florida and grabbed seven rebounds but was also one of three starters to turn it over four times. Castleton has been the Gators’ top player this year, leading the team in scoring (15.1) and rebounding (9.2) while shooting 52.6 percent from the field.
Phlandrous Fleming is the team’s other double-figure scorer at 10.9 per game, but he was 0-for-6 shooting in 16 minutes off the bench against Alabama.
This will be the 163rd meeting of the teams. Auburn leads the series 83-79 but lost 74-57 last February at home.
–Field Level Media