PARADISE ISLAND (Bahamas) – Walker Kessler walked into Auburn’s media availability Tuesday wearing a bucket hat. It was very fitting. Kessler is with his team in The Bahamas for Battle 4 Atlantis. Is there a better place than the Bahamas to spend Thanksgiving?
It’s true, it is. The Tigers are there to win.
Auburn head coach: “This is a chance to play three fantastic teams.” Bruce Pearl said. It’s a chance to either build or destroy your resume. It’s a chance to play against some of the top teams in the country, and to get tested in all possible ways.
This is a business trip. It won’t be much swimming with dolphins. This is not a summer cultural tour. We won’t spend much time at the beach or visit many museums. We’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful scenery, the weather, and the company of the men. We’re here to do business.”
Six teams made it to the NCAA Tournament last season, including the national champion Baylor. UConn, Michigan State, and Syracuse are all perennial power. There is also a Loyola Chicago squad that reached the Final Four three consecutive years and reached the Sweet 16 last season.
Auburn is ranked No. Auburn, ranked 19 in the most recent AP poll, opens Wednesday’s tournament against a UConn squad ranked No. 23 and Pearl thinks this might be the best team.
Pearl stated that “our offensive execution will be challenged.” “UConn will make it more difficult for us to run our stuff. We’ve got to do a better job executing offensively. It’s about their physicality, their post up game, and their rebounding.
We know that we are not yet where we want to go, but we don’t think we can stop ourselves from getting there. We know where we have to go.
The second game at Imperial Arena will be between the Tigers and Huskies on Wednesday. It will start at 1:30 PM CT, approximately 30 minutes after the end of Michigan State and Loyola Chicago.
The game will air live on ESPN, with Karl Ravech and Jimmy Dykes calling. Andy Burcham Joe Ciampi and the Auburn Sports Network will take the call.
Auburn will play either Loyola Chicago or Michigan State on Thanksgiving.
PLAYER TO WATCH K.D. JOHNSON
For the third consecutive game, Friday’s second-round game saw the debut of sophomore guard K.D. Johnson Auburn’s perfect start to the season was made possible by the double-digit scoring from the bench. In a 58-52 win at USF, Johnson scored a team record 15 points. This was his 15th consecutive game in double figures. Johnson led a 15-0 run during the Tigers’ come from behind win. Georgia transfer Johnson averages a team-leading 15 point per game and is currently ranked 45th in scoring.
INSIDE THE SSERIES: UCONN
Auburn has a 2-1 lead over UConn in the all-time series. It will be the second matchup between the two programs in a neutral-site tournament. Auburn and UConn met at the 1989 Great Alaska Shootout, where the Huskies won 95-81 in consolation semifinals. The Tigers have won two consecutive series matches since that first meeting. Their last meeting was Dec. 23, 2017. They also won 89-64 at Auburn Arena.
SECOND HALF LOCKDOWN
Auburn outscored its rivals 88 to 45 in the second half of the previous two games, which were victories over ULM (South Florida) and South Florida. After halftime, the Tigers held ULM (and USF) to 34.6 percent field goal shooting and forced 18 turnovers. They will be looking to continue their success against UConn, which is ranked sixth nationally with an average of 92.0 points per match. They have never scored less than 87 points per game.