Auburn Previews Mississippi State

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    Auburn Head Coach Bruce Pearl

    Opening statement…
    “They’re pretty good, Mississippi State. They’re really good at home. They score like 85 points at home, they shoot 40 percent from the three at home, but that doesn’t mean they can’t win on the road. They’ve had some great wins. They have the sixth-most quadrant one and two wins in the country right now. A year ago, they were really competitive in the SEC. They finished in the top seven in the league, but didn’t get into the tournament because they didn’t play a strong enough non-conference schedule. They played a very tough non-conference schedule this year with a veteran team and they did really well. They got beat really one time at home against Ole Miss. Ole Miss played great against Mississippi State. They’re 9-1 at home now with the one home loss against Ole Miss. Veteran team. They’re really good offensively. They’ve got multiple weapons. [Lamar] Peters is one of the most improved shooters in the league. He’s a strong, downhill driver who can now shoot it. The Weatherspoons [Nick and Quinndary] are both great athletes that can score on many levels. [Aric] Holman was a test-the-waters power forward a year ago, he can shoot the three and he’s a great passer. [Abdul] Ado is a dominating inside player physically. They got [Reggie] Perry coming off the bench. Perry was a highly recruited high school player. He reminds people a little bit of Austin Wiley, physically, but he can step out of the perimeter. It’s a very strong team. They were picked in the top three or four in preseason along with Tennessee, Kentucky and us and maybe a few others. Mississippi State was a team that almost everyone recognized would end up being there at the end of the year. They won 14 of the last 16 matchups that we’ve had at Mississippi State. You know how far Auburn basketball has come when this game is a sellout. I’m very pleased to report that once again part of that sellout is the bus that is leaving Auburn tomorrow and going to Starkville full of our Tipoff Club members and students. Thanks to the Tipoff Club for sponsoring the bus. We will have some witnesses over there supporting us in Starkville.”

    Update on Austin Wiley…
    “Progressing. I’d say I think they’re pleased with his healing. We talked about it being a couple of weeks, so next week will be the beginning of his full second week. We’ll see how it goes. He’s going to go on the trip with us to Mississippi State, but he won’t play.”

    On the foul issues…
    “I think it’s a function of the way we’re built. My old friend and football coach at Iowa, Hayden Fry, used to talk about ‘scratch where it itches’. Basically, I think what he meant by that is we got to do what we do based on our personnel and based on what we’re good at. If you’ve got really long players at every positon, you can switch a lot of things. The closer you play to the basket is not a problem because you’ve got so much length. You can sit behind the post a little bit. If the ball goes in, you’re close to doubling it down. You’ve got guys to come from behind and block shots. It’s just not how we’re built. Our guards are smaller and not longer. Therefore, defensively what you have to try to do is force the opponent to handle the ball out to the perimeter and try to protect the post that way. The problem is, when the game is called and as you try to extend and put pressure on the basketball, it’s really easy to see contact because it’s out there. You get the 10:1 focus of hand checking and things like that which is part of the rules. As you get closer to the basket, whether it be post coverage, post defensive coverage or protecting the air born shooters, there’s a lot more contact that goes on inside. I’m more concerned with the contact on the perimeter versus what’s being called on the inside. We have fouled out our centers the last two games, Horace Spencer and Anfernee McLemore. They’ve got 20 fouls in two games.”

    On what he plans on doing with the lineup without a true center…
    “You know, it was a good lineup, offensively, too. We played Chuma [Okeke] at the five and played Danjel [Purifoy] at the four. It really was out of necessity because we didn’t have any other bodies left. I had one center at home in a boot and I had two centers on the bench with eight minutes to go at South Carolina with five fouls. Having two shooters out there on the floor allowed us to spread the floor a little bit. Offensively, I thought we did a good job. Defensively, we needed some stops and we weren’t able to make some plays. I don’t think we will scheme that lineup only simply because it’s too small to be able to compete.”

    On uplifting the players through adversity…
    “I can’t get around to reading everything and I try not to, but I think my gist of things is that you guys have been fair about that. We’re losing to good teams. We have a chance. For me, I’ll also share something with you because I’ve shared it with the team a few times already. I’m a big Patriots fan. I grew up in New England. I knew them when they were the Boston Patriots. I knew them when they were no good. Most people hate the Patriots because they’ve been good for so long. I’m old enough to have known them when it was 20 years of losing. We’re happy after the Patriots won. I had a bit of a different take. That was how much better Coach [Bill] Belichick than me. He’s better than anybody else, too. Because his team never beat themselves. They hardly ever beat themselves. They had to make so many plays to come back and beat Kansas City. They do. They seem to do it all the time. We made some winning plays, but we made enough plays to lose either with a forced shot or a bad rotation or a missed rebound. If we were better coached, we might come out on the other side of those wins. I think the other thing I’ll compliment you guys on is the fans will be surprised because they’re fans. They’ve read about what a great team we have, but the media in this league knows there are 14 pretty good teams. If Vanderbilt is near the bottom right now, they have a six-point lead with a 1:34 to go, and potentially had the rebound against the No. 1 team in the country – it is going to be interesting. The importance of keeping your locker room. The importance of getting under the next one as fast as you can. The importance of understanding matchups. I think, early in the year, I alluded to find film of me saying that I thought we had the chance to have a better team than we did last year. We’re going to lose more games than we did a year ago. I think you’ll see that dating quite a ways back, but it’s because the league is really good. I haven’t told the team this, but I’m going to tell them this one. You’re going to be getting something before they even get it. I’ve been in leagues before and I’ve been in the SEC before where when you play other teams, a loss could knock you out of the tournament because their RPI or now their NET would be so low. If you were on the bubble, which a lot of us are going to be, there is only Kentucky, Florida or maybe a few teams left on your schedule to get off the bubble. They’re all going to be hard games. The fact that they’re all hard games, but they’re all worth something is a real positive for our team. The league is in a good spot from that standpoint because you could lose three or four in a row, you could win three or four in a row and you could still be in a good spot because of who you’re losing to and who you’re beating. That’s good T.V.”

    Anfernee McLemore, F, Jr.

    On the team’s mentality after the two losses…
    “I feel like we’re doing good. We’re all bought into the same objective that we need to do better in what we need to work on. I think overall, we’re more focused on getting better on the court rather than having any animosity between teammates.”

    On what he thinks the team needs to do better on the court…
    “We need to do better on executing the smaller things. We need to rebound better, make some more stops and make some better plays down the stretch. It’s just the little things. We lost the last two games maybe by five points in total. Those are the things that we know we can fix if we just put a little more effort into it. We’ve been more intense in practice, so we’re hoping that translates.”

    On him and Horace Spencer’s foul trouble…
    “We talked about it. We have to be smarter – pick and choose. If we do foul, just make sure it’s not an and-1. Most of those things, it’s just making sure we’re in a better position on the court. We pretty much get our fouls when we’re in the wrong position or an awkward position. If we jump to the spots that we’re supposed to be in, we won’t get a foul.”

    On if there is an adjustment that he plans to make or has made with Austin Wiley out…
    “Not necessarily. I don’t want to put too much focus on just not fouling. I still want to play aggressively. I think the last two games I might not have gotten a good whistle. If I foul out this game I will make some adjustments, so I can keep playing the game I want to play.”

    On if it’s hard not having Austin Wiley…
    “I think the hardest part is getting back into the flow of the rotations. With Austin [Wiley] out, Horace [Spencer] has to play at the five and now I have to play more at the five. It’s just like readjusting to the way that the rotation was. It’s not really the game plan that’s adjusting too much because the way I’m playing is the same as when Austin is playing. I think it’s just the minutes and the rotation to get the better win out there.”

    On what he’s expecting from Mississippi State…
    “They have talented guards. I expect them to drive the ball. They shoot pretty well. I expect them to come out there and play hard because we did win last year. We have a target on our back this year, so everyone is going to give us their best shot. I expect it to be an intense game, a fast-paced game and hopefully we’ll come out with the ‘W’.”

    @AuburnEinstein

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