Men’s basketball seeks sweep of Auburn to bolster tournament resume


CW / Hannah Saad

Hunter Jones | @Hunter_Jones_10, Contributing Writer

Wednesday is the start of an eight-game stretch that will play a big part in deciding whether Alabama men’s basketball is an NCAA Tournament team or not. Nobody knows this more than coach Nate Oats.

“We’d all like to play in the NCAA Tournament. It’s a big deal, we’re not in right now, in order to get in we got to have some more quality wins,” Oats said. “Well, we got two opportunities sitting in front of [us] this week so it’s big. Auburn is going to be a Quad 1 win, 100%. And LSU, even at home, will in all likelihood end up as a Quad 1 game. We’ve got one Quad 1 win right now [an 83-64 home win against Auburn in January], need to get at least one more so this week is a big, big week in my opinion.”

It will be Oats’ first time coaching at Auburn, and while he expects an intense crowd, he also expects the team, particularly the younger players, to not be as rattled given how deep they are into the season.

“[Auburn has] been winning here the past few years so their crowd comes out. I’m sure it’ll be a sellout and they’ll be after it,” Oats said. “I love playing in big-time environments whether it’s home or away. It’s great to play in a hostile environment too; you get to see what your guys’ characters are made of and see what they’re made of. I think it’s going to be fun playing in that environment. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be hard to hear at times. I haven’t played there yet but I’m looking forward to it.”

The last time these two met, Alabama got the better of Auburn, ending the Tigers’ then-undefeated season, winning 83-64. The Crimson Tide’s 19-point victory was Alabama’s largest margin of victory against Auburn since 2008. The Crimson Tide hasn’t swept the Tigers since 2015.

“It’s a rivalry, so any game that you play, it’s going to be a bulls-eye [on your back],” sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr. said. “But knowing what we did here, they’re going to be pumped. The crowd’s going to be into it in warmups, so we just got to go in there and be about us and get the job done.”

Alabama’s 105-102 overtime win at Georgia on Saturday ended a three-game losing streak, but perhaps more importantly, it exorcised some demons about the team not closing out tough games.

“It was a tough-fought game. The main focus was to go in, we knew what type of players they had, we knew what type of player they had with [Georgia freshman] Anthony Edwards, so we just had to try to come in and shut them out as best as we could,” junior guard John Petty Jr. said. “I feel like we did a pretty good job on him, but it’s still some stuff we took away from that game that we have to work on.”

While the team’s top defender, Herbert Jones, won’t play against Auburn, Oats did give update the status of the junior forward. Jones had surgery on his fractured right wrist and Oats said that he was ahead of schedule and that they’re hoping he can start to get back in the game in the next week.

“We’ll probably bring him back well before he’s 100%. I mean, that kid is wanting to play all the time,” Oats said. “But the left hand is still sore. He can’t really do anything with it, so we got to get it to a point where he can at least function, where he can pass, catch, dribble some, shoot free throws at least, and then once that gets to that point hopefully he does well. Once he can ‘practice practice,’ we’ll probably put him in games. It may be limited, maybe it’ll be a offense-defense type deal to start.”

Tipoff from Auburn Arena is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT on Wednesday. Auburn opened as a 6.5-point favorite.