GAME NOTES: Intrastate foes will square off at Coleman Coliseum on Saturday afternoon, as the Auburn Tigers make the trip west to Tuscaloosa to play the Alabama Crimson Tide in SEC action.
Auburn had lost four of its previous five contests prior to its 83-67 home victory over South Carolina on Wednesday night, although it is still just 13-13 overall and 5-10 in league play. The Tigers have played especially poorly on the road, going just 1-7.
Alabama has been on the downswing of late with losses in three of its last four, including a 79-67 setback at Ole Miss on Wednesday, as it dropped to 5-10 in the SEC and a mere 11-17 on the season. The good news for the Tide in this one is that literally all of their success on the campaign has come at Coleman Coliseum (11-4).
In the first meeting this season back on Jan. 30, Auburn made easy work of Alabama on its home floor, 74-55. The Tide still own a 89-59 advantage in the all-time series, which includes four straight wins at home.
The Tigers made a statement early in their latest bout, running out to a 12- point lead at intermission over South Carolina, and they put the game on autopilot from there, never allowing their advantage to dip to single digits. They shot a stellar 52.1 percent from the field, made 25-of-35 at the free- throw line and forced the Gamecocks into 20 turnovers. Chris Denson shot 8- of-11 from the field for a team-high 22 points. Allen Payne tallied 15 points and five steals, Tahj Shamsid-Deen shot 3-of-3 from beyond the arc for 14 points and KT Harrell chipped in 11 points.
Auburn's offensive attack has been impressive all season long, as it shoots 44.8 percent from the field and 72.0 percent at the free-throw line for 73.4 ppg, but its downfall has come on the opposite end of the court, where its scoring defense (71.6 ppg) has not been up to par. Denson is the SEC's second- leading scorer with 20.4 ppg, although his production would be even greater had he performed better from 3-point range (.253) and the foul line (.660). Harrell is an excellent second option with 18.4 ppg, while Shamsid-Deen narrowly misses the double-digit scorers club with 9.8 ppg.
The Tide fell flat on the road earlier this week, as they dug themselves a 15- point hole at halftime, and while they brought their deficit to just six with under seven minutes to play, Ole Miss put the game away with a 7-1 run. Although they shot slightly better from the field (.417) than Ole Miss (.414), they attempted 10 fewer field goals thanks mostly to a lopsided disadvantage on the boards (42-24). Shannon Hale shined in spite of defeat with a career- high 27 points, shooting 7-of-12 from the floor and 10-of-11 at the stripe, while adding nine rebounds for good measure. Trevor Releford added 16 points and four steals, while Levi Randolph chipped in 13 points off the bench.
On the season, Alabama's offensive output has not been up to par, as it shoots 44.4 percent from the field for just 68.2 ppg, which all but negates a solid defensive effort (68.3 ppg). Releford is one of the SEC's best playmakers both offensively (18.9 ppg) and defensively (2.2 spg) and boasts great percentages from the field (.505), 3-point range (.396) and the free-throw line (.867). While no one else scores in double figures, Retin Obasohan (9.6 ppg), Randolph (9.0 ppg), Hale (8.5 ppg), Nick Jacobs (8.4 ppg) and Rodney Cooper (7.9 ppg) are all solid contributors.
Alabama has become an afterthought in the SEC thanks to its dreadful showing on the road, but it has performed admirably on its home floor and should find a way to capture a victory against an Auburn squad that too has struggled away from home.
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