Despite Odds, Bruce Pearl Has Brought Credibility as a Contender to Auburn Basketball
USA TODAY Sports
What Bruce Pearl has done this year with an undermanned basketball team is simply remarkable. With each passing game, he has the Tigers looking like an NCAA tournament team.
And on Saturday Auburn blew out the University of Connecticut; one of the nation’s most respected teams. Granted the 7–5 Huskies have struggled this season, but UConn is still one of college basketball’s storied programs, having won 18 league titles, made 33 NCAA appearances, and been seeded No. 1 five times. In addition the Huskies have won four national titles, the latest coming in 2014.
The Tigers wasted no time taking UConn to the woodshed, jumping on the Huskies from the start. With the game tied early at seven all, Auburn went on a 16–0 run and cruised to an 89–64 victory. The beatdown was really worse than the final score indicated as the Tigers led by as many as 36 points before emptying the bench.
This season may be Pearl’s best coaching effort of his career. He’s taken a team that was blindsided with the arrest of former assistant Chuck Person and the benching of Austin Wiley and Daniel Purifoy and shepherded them to their best start (11–1) in 18 years.
Many feared the turmoil would provide so much distraction that it would prevent the Tigers from having any type of productive season. Instead, Pearl has had the team focused like no team this writer has seen on the Plains since Cliff Ellis roamed the court. That single-minded focus shows up on defense as well as on the foul line, both critical areas for any team to be successful.
“The focus is on the kids,” Pearl said, “because they’re the ones that have stayed together, and they’re the ones that wear that [Auburn name] on the front.” Maybe so, but Pearl is the one who has navigated them through the rough waters. And he’s also kept the fans involved through it all.
“What a treat for our fans to see UConn and see our Auburn team not only belong on the floor with them, but we outplayed them,” an exuberant Pearl said after the win. “We were brought here to bring credibility and competitiveness to men’s basketball. I’m pleased with that. It’s a big win for our program.”
While it “was” a big win, the real test will begin January 2nd when the Tigers begin SEC play against Tennessee. But, for now, Bruce Pearl has his team believing and playing with an unselfish chemistry, a combination that may just see the Tigers make their first NCAA appearance since 2003.