AUBURN, Ala. – At least the Auburn men’s basketball team stopped the bleeding Wednesday night.
Certainly the fan base won’t complain with beating Alabama in anything, be it an ugly basketball game or a virtuoso arm-wrestling contest.
However, bull-headed coach Tony Barbee surprisingly uttered Monday that if the Tigers snapped their six-game slide against Alabama, that wasn’t sure to solve any problems based on recent history with this team.
Barbee, you see, has watched positive momentum fizzle without warning on multiple occasions this winter. So even after Auburn fought back for a feel-good 49-37 win over the Crimson Tide, Barbee backed up his words.
“We got a good win against a team that was as hot as any in our league. Now we have to go find out on the road that beat us pretty good here, and a team that’s as hot as Alabama,” Barbee said. “We’ll find out very quickly if this (win) means anything.”
Kentucky was scuffling going into a Jan. 19 game at Auburn Arena, yet throttled the Tigers by 22 points. Now the defending champion Wildcats (16-6, 7-2 SEC) have righted themselves, and await Auburn (9-13, 3-6) in a Saturday matinee at 4 p.m. at Rupp Arena.
Alabama had won six out of seven entering its Auburn game. Kentucky has won six out of seven. But John Calipari, Barbee’s former mentor at UMass, isn’t as likely to let the Wildcats overlook Auburn, after Kentucky shook off a listless start to the SEC schedule.
“It’s no surprise because it’s what Coach Cal has always done in his career,” Barbee said. “His teams have always gotten better as they’ve gone deeper and deeper into conference play. Whether it’s his veteran teams or the younger teams he’s had, those guys grow, and they get better with him, and that’s no different this year.”
Never averse to letting his players have it, Barbee even presented how the Wildcats have advanced in ways the Tigers haven’t.
“You see them really starting to understand their jobs individually, and when you put them all together collectively, they’re all doing their job and are worried about what their job is and not somebody else’s job,” Barbee said. “That’s a little bit what I’m struggling with, even after the (Alabama) win. We have guys who still don’t get it and still don’t understand it. They want to do somebody else’s job when that is not their role right now.
“When they’re worried about other people’s roles, then you are not as cohesive as a team. That’s what I think (Calipari) does better than anybody.”
Auburn veterans don’t necessarily disagree with their coach, even reveling in beating their biggest rival.
“It feels great, but we just have to keep fighting and keep building on it,” senior guard Josh Wallace said. “Against Kentucky and Vanderbilt, we just didn’t fight. I believe we had gotten away from our roots, which are fighting and playing D.”
An early-morning practice before dawn, following that sixth consecutive defeat at Missouri over the weekend, woke up the dormant Tigers.
“When you practice the way we practiced, 6 a.m. on Monday, you start to appreciate the game more,” junior forward Allen Payne said. “You start to feel like it means more to you when you go that hard and you come out and beat a rival like Alabama.”
Auburn has won just twice in 26 trips to Rupp Arena. Kentucky has beaten Auburn 14 straight times and 28 of the past 29.