Auburn's pursuit of a school record for victories to start a season faces its biggest challenge yet when the No. 4 Tigers (15-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) take on in-state rival Alabama on Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa.
The Crimson Tide (8-7, 1-2) are coming off a 76-67 loss at Kentucky but have won six of their past nine games, with the three losses all on the road by a combined 17 points. The Tide fell by two points at Penn State and by six in double overtime at Florida in that stretch.
The Tigers are coming off a dominating 82-60 victory over Georgia that moved them to within four wins of the program-best start to a season, 19 consecutive victories, posted by the 1958-59 team. They shot 53.2 percent overall and were 9 of 24 from 3-point range against the Bulldogs.
"We're going to be a much better team if we can make nine threes a night," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. "The last couple of games, I think we've had five. We're better when we shoot it.
"I can tell you right now we're going to Alabama and play against one of the best shooting teams in the country. They'll have more threes made in the first 10 minutes than we'll have in a game."
That's a bit of an exaggeration, but no team in the SEC has made or attempted more 3-pointers than the Tide, which has averaged 10.7 made 3-pointers on 29.3 attempts a game. The Tigers have averaged 8.3 treys made a game on 25.7 attempts.
Five Tide players have hit at least 21 3-pointers this season, led by guard John Petty Jr. (53 of 107), who ranks third in the conference in long-range accuracy with his 49.5 percent success rate. But the Tide are coming off a season-low 19 percent effort in their loss to Kentucky.
"Defensively, they did a great job," Alabama coach Nate Oats said of the Wildcats. "We played hard. We went 4 of 21 from (3-point range). A lot of that is because of their play. They have length, they contest the threes, and they make you miss. We've been shooting at a pretty high clip."
While Auburn's 3-point shooting picked up against Georgia, probably the most encouraging thing that came out of the win was the Tigers' bench play.
After being held to just 21 points their previous two games combined, including just two against Mississippi State, the Tigers' reserves combined for 34 against the Bulldogs, their biggest output since a 38-point effort in a 116-70 rout of Cal State-Northridge on Nov. 15.
Freshman guard Allen Flanigan scored in double digits for the first time Saturday, finishing with 12, and senior forward Anfernee McLemore also put up 12 points off the bench. Sophomore guard Jamal Johnson added a pair of big 3-pointers.
"The bench was terrific," Pearl said. "It was probably the best the bench played. We got four threes between Allen and Jamal. We got really good defensive rotations. When the bench starts to play like that, we have a chance to be a pretty good ballclub."
--Field Level Media