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Auburn needs to show '10 eyes and 5 bodies'

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Auburn Basketball

Auburn needs to show '10 eyes and 5 bodies' to Alabama's Collin Sexton in SEC Tournament

Updated Mar 8, 7:57 PM; Posted Mar 8, 8:00 PM


Gallery: Alabama at Auburn Basketball: Feb. 21, 2018


By Tom Green

Auburn and Alabama are no strangers on the hardwood. The two rivals have already met twice this season, and Friday morning will mark the third meeting.

This one, of course, will have higher stakes as the two clash in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament at noon on ESPN from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

"We've scouted them twice. They've scouted us twice. I feel like they got a pretty good feel on us, we got a pretty good feel on them," Auburn forward Desean Murray said. "Like I said, it's just going to come down to who's going to play the hardest, who's going to be ready to play and who's going to execute. Whoever does that is going to come out and win this game, and hopefully, I think it's going to be us."

Murray and Auburn have reason to be confident. The Tigers are the top seed in the tournament after a 13-5 run through conference play, and they throttled the Tide in the teams' most recent matchup at Auburn Arena last month.

They don't expect Friday's game to come easy, though. Auburn coach Bruce Pearl has said multiple times this season that he believes Alabama is one of the most talented teams in the country, and he reiterated that point Thursday night after Auburn's off-site practice in St. Louis.

"They play 10 guys, they're deep, they're long, they're athletic," Pearl said. "Their numbers talk about their defense and how well they guard and block shots. I know their size and length bothered us the first time we played them. The second time we played them, I don't know that we could've played any better than we did that game."

Alabama glad Round 3 vs. Auburn is on a neutral court

Auburn and Alabama split their regular-season series, but the Tigers won the most recent matchup in blowout fashion at Auburn Arena. The two teams will meet again in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals.

The third edition of this series will be a bit different. More is on the line, yes. Alabama is trying to secure an NCAA Tournament berth while Auburn is looking to further legitimize itself and possibly play its way into a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament.

It will also be the first time that both teams should have each of their top players this season available. Alabama point guard Collin Sexton missed the first meeting between the two back in January, and the Tide won that one in Tuscaloosa. Auburn guard Mustapha Heron missed the most recent game against Alabama, when the Tigers cruised to a 90-71 win at Auburn Arena.

So while the two teams are plenty familiar, it remains to be seen if either has a complete feel for the other given the circumstances of the first two games.

No matter, Pearl and his players recognize the challenge in preparing for the Tide a third time.

"Playing them a third time, coming up with a third gameplan, we got to go with what works and stay away from what didn't," Pearl said.

What worked in the last game was just about everything for the Tigers, who outrebounded Alabama, shot better from the free-throw line and from beyond the arc, played better in transition and scored more in the paint.

Part of the gameplan will be getting back in transition and slowing Sexton, who had 27 points against Texas A&M on Thursday, including the game-winning floater at the buzzer.

"Sexton's so fast and he goes end to end and he's powerful at the end, so probably the No. 1 thing you need to do is get back and he's got to see 10 eyes and five bodies, otherwise he's going to get to the rim," Pearl said. "That's where they're really dangerous offensively."

That's just part of the puzzle for Auburn, which spent its week preparing for both teams before implementing its Alabama gameplan Thursday afternoon.

"They're our rivals, first of all, so there's going to be a lot of competition, a lot of people trying to win this game and a lot of people watching, but we're going to treat it like every game," Murray said. "We're going to prepare for it and then go out there and play hard and follow the gameplan and come out with this win."

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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