Auburn Previews Texas A&M

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    Auburn Head Coach Bruce Pearl

    Opening statement…
    “We’re getting ready for Texas A&M. They’ve won nine out of the last 11 in the series. The last time we beat them was in 2015 in the SEC Tournament. They’ve had their way with us over the last few years. Looking at where the league is at now after a couple of weeks, you see five teams that are ranked and eight teams that are either ranked or getting votes. The road teams have had some success, so I think it’s at a point where it’s just really competitive. If you look at the teams that are at the bottom right now, they’ve either beaten or been right there with some of the teams that are at the top of the league. Some of the teams that are at the bottom during the non-conference are now up at the top. It’s just been really competitive. I think the grind for us, for the 16 games that are remaining, is getting excited about playing each and every opponent. Each and every opponent does something different. I think with Texas A&M it starts with TJ Starks and Savion Flagg. Starks and Flagg are a huge part of their run. Going into the SEC Tournament, and after they beat Providence and North Carolina, there was a lot of talk that they could be a Final Four team. They had [Robert] Williams, who is a pro. They had a nice run in the tournament, and of course the only game we lost at home last year, against them, was a great game. Where they dominated us was on the inside and on the boards. I thought our kids really battled and it was a great game. They’re a very good rebounding team this year, second in the league. I think for us, we want to go on the road and play better. We want to handle the ball better and not turn the ball over as much. We’re going to play with the same effort, energy and confidence that we do at home. From that standpoint, it’s a great opportunity for us.”

    On Bryce Brown’s shooting…
    “I do think he [Bryce Brown] made three out of the four (3s) he took against Georgia. One of the things I said to Bryce, it might have been during halftime, was that it’s a good thing when we’re up 10 at halftime and he didn’t have to carry us. When you’re playing against the best teams in your schedule, the best players have to perform. At Ole Miss, this year, because they are better, it makes sense that he would need to step up. I thought in a way he did step up. He probably had a couple of shots too many. That wasn’t my issue with him. My issue would’ve been him not getting some rebounds or him not being the player that he wants to be, that I know he can be. I know against Georgia he did an excellent job of not forcing the issue and taking what the defense gave him.”

    On the difference of shooting at home versus away…
    “I’d say a couple of things. You did have a different basketball. You play with a Nike ball or an Adidas ball, like we will at Texas A&M. The feel, the friendly confines of the rim and different things like that. It’s typical that teams will shoot better at home than on the road. I think when we played in Birmingham, I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I thought we didn’t shoot terribly. It was probably because they were playing with a Wilson ball. I think that could have something to do with it.”

    On if they practice with different basketballs…
    “We do. We practice with a different ball. I remember at NC State we couldn’t handle the ball. It was just slipping out of our hands like crazy. Sometimes we try to play with a brand new ball. It’s different with football. They change the balls out all the time and the offense gets to play with the ball that they want to. My explanation is not an excuse. Today we broke out a bunch of Adidas balls. Some are broken in and some are brand new because we don’t know what we’re going to see.”

    On Samir Doughty’s improved 3-point shooting…
    “I think it was a goal. Yeah, definitely, it was a goal for Samir because he was a breakdown guy, a guy that could get to the rim, get others involved, part of a play-making guard and maybe a guy you closed out short on. A guy that you maybe said go ahead and shoot it. He didn’t have quite the same confidence. In his redshirt year he got bigger and stronger, which he needed to. And he still needs to become more explosive, but he spent a lot of time in the gym. I just do think that I have a different confidence level in Samir. I think that’s helped him just relax. I like when he has the ball and I like when he’s looking at it. I feel like he’s going to make it.”

    On putting Anfernee McLemore back in the starting rotation to negate slow starts…
    “If I thought we were consistently starting slow, I would make that adjustment. But I don’t know that we have consistently started slow. I think we’ve started slow in the second half. I will tell you that when Anfernee is playing better like he is, we’re a different team. I think you noticed he was playing better, but he was also playing more. That’s a function of what he was able to do. Obviously, he defensively can impact the game with his rim protection and his activity. I thought he rebounded really well. His offensive rebounding was really good. It was good to see him back. He showed us a little of what we were used to seeing a year ago before his injury.”

    On the week ahead…
    “I think Tennessee has shown to me that they have separated themselves. I don’t care what the records are. I just think that right now they look they are the best team in the league. We have 16 game left. We have to get every one we have a chance to get because it is so competitive. And certainly, as it relates to competing for a championship, we can’t let there get much distance between us and Tennessee. My focus is truly what do we from Ole Miss to Georgia. What are we going to do from Georgia to Texas A&M? And if you look back at my history, we truly take it one at a time. But you need to win some on the road – and if we’re going to be able to have the kind of year we want to have – that’s why this is a tremendous opportunity for us.”

    On changes from Georgia to Texas A&M…
    “The difference in personnel, the differences in style of play are vast from one opponent to the next. Georgia, Texas A&M, Kentucky – they’re all different. We’ll learn from Georgia things that we didn’t do as well. For example, transition defense. If we don’t get better in our transition defense from Georgia to Texas A&M, [TJ] Starks will drive it right down the hole. It doesn’t matter what we do as far as our coverage is concerned. They’re really good in transition. We better get better in transition. Same thing with Kentucky. That would be a good common denominator. So, we’ll work on that hard this week for both opponents. But the way we would guard or the things that we would look for offensively are different from game to game based on what our opponent is good at and what they’re not good at. We aren’t good enough or dominate enough to dictate. Like look, this is what we do, good luck dealing with it. We’ve got to be able to game plan and have a lot of options in order to be successful both offensively and defensively. And I think we do.”

    Horace Spencer, F, Sr.

    On last season’s game against Texas A&M…
    “I remember last season they had two bigs, so it was a little more difficult to play post defense. I think we were a little more undersized last year at 5 spot. Now we have Austin [Wiley] back who can tend to that spot and hold it down.”

    On what he believes to be the key to get a good start playing on the road…
    “I feel like playing together as a team and having everyone contribute the best way that they possibly can. If somebody isn’t having their best night, then we aren’t really worried about them because we have one or two other guys that can pick up the slack at any given moment. It’s really not just about where we fall short at, it’s about where we can pick it up at. Also just keep playing the best that we can, and continuing to get better.”

    On how big this week is for the team to set the tone for the rest of the week…
    “Honestly, we’re going to take it one game at a time. Right now, I’m focused on Texas A&M, going there, at their house. We want to beat them and then focus on Kentucky. We don’t want to worry about the polls. We want to play in each game to get better. We really want to focus on defense. Anyone on this team can score, so we want to be able to shut down other teams on defense and be that more dominant team on defense and rebounding.”

    Malik Dunbar, G, Sr.

    On what was going through his head during his last alley-oop on Saturday…
    “At first, the only thing I was thinking about was my mom and my grandma. They were at the game. That’s why I blew the kiss because my grandma doesn’t get to come to a lot of games. That’s why I blew the kiss at her.”

    On what he believes to be the key to get a good start playing on the road…
    “Just locking in on defense and understanding our spots. Just mainly defense. I feel like we can beat anybody. Most of the games that we lost, we beat ourselves. It’s just little mistakes, so we need to correct those mistakes and making less mistakes as possible.”

    On why the team is shooting better at home versus the road…
    “I don’t know what it is, but we’re going to fix it. Whatever it is, we’re going to fix it. We just need to get more shots up in the arena. Whatever it is, it’s going to come around.”

    @AuburnEinstein

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