CRAWFORD | Previewing UK-Auburn: Tough talk in tough times from - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Previewing UK-Auburn: Tough talk in tough times from one Tiger

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AUBURN, Ala. (WDRB) — Bruce Pearl was so eager to get back into coaching that by the time struck midnight on a long NCAA-imposed exile after violations at Tennessee, he was ready to roll out an impressive list of commitments as Auburn head coach.

But the rebuilding won’t be so quick.

Pearl has had some bad luck in his second season at Auburn. Guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen is out for the season with a separated shoulder. Transfer guard T.J. Dunans has been sidelined by a knee injury. Top recruit Danjel Purifoy has not been cleared to play by the NCAA.

With the University of Kentucky coming to town for a 4 p.m. matchup today, it’s not quite the party Pearl has been hoping for. (The game will be televised by ESPN. Kentucky opened a 9-point favorite, and is favored by 12 the morning of the game).

Still, Pearl hopes to give the Wildcats an enthusiastic reception — though maybe not as enthusiastic as big man Cinmeon Bowers, who told reporters this week, when talking about Kentucky: “I really believe we’re going to beat them. They’re not like how (they were) last year, you know what I’m saying? You couldn’t really attack them because they were blocking every shot. We need to attack them, get them in foul trouble, get into their bench.”

None of that is exactly breaking news, forgive the term. It’s pretty well demonstrated that when Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee struggle or get into foul trouble, the team has problems. But talking with Brandon Marcello of, Bowers also called out the Kentucky guards, saying: “I believe our guards are better than their guards. Kareem Canty, Bryce Brown, TJ Lang, New Williams, even Jordon Granger being a senior, tougher, taller. I think we're going to have a good chance. We're going to make it a good game."

All right. There you go. Kentucky is coming off an uneven performance, but a win nonetheless, at home over Mississippi State. The Wildcats, a game prior, turned in an impressive road win at Alabama.

This past week, UK coach John Calipari has stressed defense, as he has all season, but he has continued to tell his team it can’t rely on jump shooting — at least not all the time.

“We have to guard, but you know you have to have some guys who will make baskets around the goal too,” Calipari said. “You have to have guards – you’re not going to win a game just shooting all jump shots. You just can’t – not a big-time game. Yeah, this is a team that has to really defend. But, we’ve got to execute offensively. We’ve got to score baskets. Like, we went to Alabama and had two dunks. Missed the dunk and then missed both free throws both times. You’re not winning that way. Dunk the ball or make the free throws. Either one. You can’t do both. So, those are kind of things that we have to demand and get them to understand that if you want to win, if you want to do your job for this team you’ll do it.”

At Auburn, Pearl’s talk has been a bit more realistic than his big man’s, but he still wants his players embracing the challenge.

“Obviously, I think from the standpoint of our fans, getting a chance to see Tyler Ulis play, and I do hope our fans decide to come to the game to see Tyler Ulis play and not give their tickets to their Kentucky friends," Pearl told "It's one of those games, and I don't think we should mind this, I think we should look forward to seeing the talent, the size, the depth of some of our opponents and love basketball and enjoy the opportunity that we have to challenge them and play them here at home, but also to enjoy their abilities."

Auburn isn’t without weapons. Canty is averaging 18.5 points and nearly six assists per game.

“They play really loose,” Calipari said. “They shoot balls. They spread the court. They’ll beat you on the dribble. They’re pressing not as much as he (Bruce Pearl) used to. Same baseline out. They’re switching stuff – sideline out, diamond press, pick-and-roll. Their guard (Kareem Canty), this kid, he’s just letting it go, and if he has a big night, we’ll probably say, ‘Who’s next on the schedule?’ But they’re going to shoot balls and they play loose. When you’re at home – and you know they’re ready for us. It’s just how it is.”

Kentucky is hoping to get junior guard Dominique Hawkins back. He’s been out with an ankle injury, but was expected to return to practice late this week. If he can go, it won’t be a moment too soon, according to Calipari.

“Right now we need that one guy that’s going to play,” he said. “Mychal (Mulder) gave us a lift and did some good stuff, and then last game, he just wasn’t there. And now all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, who is the next?’ You need another guy. But Dom will be fine.”

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