After jumping out to their best start in seven years the Auburn Basketball team was faced with opening SEC play against, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, two of the best teams in the league. The result was an 0-2 start in conference play.
But something happened in the second loss that provided hope for Barbee’s second Auburn squad.
The Tigers played with a defensive tenacity that here to fore had been lacking. They took No.2 Kentucky to the wire in a contest that was not settled till the final moments.
Then the Tigers pushed Ole Miss in to double overtime winning 69 – 68 and dropped ahard fought overtime heart breaker to LSU. Now at 12 – 7 ( 2-3 SEC) the Tigers seem to be energized as they head into the middle of the SEC schedule.
That energy was apparent last Saturday when the Tigers gave a dogged defensive performance in downing South Carolina 63 – 52. It appears the Tigers are finally playing the scrappy grinding defense that Barbee has been pushing for all season. And it started with the hard fought Kentucky loss.
Forward Kenny Gabriel said, “We finally grasped how hard we need to play to win games … we feel like we can play with anybody if we raise our intensity to their level.”
Tony Barbee believes the Tigers have, ” Found a style that I think is going to work for this team. It is to shorten the games and grind it out.”
That style worked almost to perfection Saturday as the Tigers forced 23 turnovers and shut down the Gamecocks in the second half.
“It’s finally starting to click,” said Barbee. “If you will guard with that sense of urgency, that sense of toughness on every position, then, no matter what you do offensively, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win.”
Maybe the Carolina game will be the momentum Auburn needs to make a run in the SEC.
But the Tigers face a tough two game road test beginning tonight at Arkansas. The Razorbacks may have played their best game in recent years Saturday as they beat No.20 Michigan 66-64 in front of 19,500 fans in Bud Walton Arena.
After Arkansas, the Tigers have to travel to Knoxville to play Tennessee, a team that justknocked off Defending National Champion and No. 13, U Conn.
This weekend will be a pivotal point of the season. But as Barbee said after the Kentucky game, the Tigers can give themselves a chance if they play with that same sense of urgency and toughness.
Wins on the road against the Hogs and the Vols is a tall task. But if the Tigers keep playing like they have the last four games it is doable. And it could mean jump starting a run into the post season.
I’m not saying Auburn is going to win the SEC but if the Tigers can win even one of these two games, they will be on their way to a winning record and have a chance at post season play.
Two wins here could provide momentum to take Auburn to the next level; losing both could start a slide in to mediocrity. How the Tigers perform in the next two games will be pivotal for the rest of the season