Greg Cage got to start on senior day, and Coach Grant even left him in the game for a couple of minutes. He got burned on defense a couple of times, but he also scored a basket. With the game well in hand, he got back on the court in the final minute and scored again after chasing down his blocked shot. I was happy for him to get to score on senior day and get to play at the end, but honestly, I'm not a huge fan of starting all the seniors on senior day. Winning the game should be first and foremost, and I would like to see our best players on the court when the game is in jeopardy.
Early in the game I thought we were a little out of control. auburn made a couple of 3 pointers to get an early lead. We were very careless with the basketball and had a number of unforced turnovers.
As the game went along, we settled down and ended up taking a 1 point lead into halftime. I wrote last week that Tony Mitchell had not been on his game lately, but he came back with authority against auburn. Even though he didn't shoot well from the free throw line or the perimeter, he was the key to our victory. He had 7 rebounds and 16 points including an amazing reverse dunk on an alley-oop in the first half that really got the crowd into the game and gave us momentum.
I really expected our post players to have a big game against Lebo's band of midgets. Justin Knox was solid, and he seems to play better when in the starting lineup than he does coming off the bench. Chris Hines was a beast. I've said all year that he is an offensive liability, but he was practically unstoppable on the low block yesterday, even driving the lane for a layup on one possession. I have no idea where that came from, but I hope we see more of it.
The one negative to this game, besides all the unforced turnovers, was Jamychal Green. I was very disappointed in him, and I was hoping he would bounce back from his suspension in much the same way Senario did against South Carolina. Instead, he scored 1 point with 2 fouls and 3 turnovers, and appeared to me to be pouting at times while on the court. Jamychal Green, I'm calling you out. There is no excuse for a man of your size and ability to have such a poor game against such a smaller, lesser team like auburn. Whatever is going on with your suspension, it's time to put that behind you, man up, and start playing to your capabilities. We need you in Nashville.
Speaking of suspended players bouncing back, I've heard a lot of people complaining about Senario Hillman's play. Yes, he had a bad offensive game. He threw the ball away a couple of times, took some ill advised shots, and his shot was way off. Still, I think he deserves a lot of credit for our defensive success. auburn shoots a lot of 3's, and I thought Hillman's defense on the perimeter was a big reason why they shot so poorly.
Overall, I was pleased with our guard play. It was good to see Torrance and Brock leave Coleman on a high note. Torrance was automatic at the free throw line and put the game away down the stretch, something we have really struggled with this year. I also thought Torrance did a good job, particularly in the second half, of getting us into good position within the halfcourt offense and recognizing auburn's switches between the trap and the 2-3 zone. Anthony Brock made some key baskets but more importantly was his work on defense, as he forced a number of steals that led to easy baskets.
Our full court press was effective not only in forcing turnovers but throwing auburn off of their rythem. As the game went on, I think auburn's guards lost their legs a little bit and their shots were coming up short. Also, we were fortunate in that they badly missed some fairly easy shots.
I agree with Alias regarding the officiating, it was horrible on both sides. We got to retain possession on a couple of plays where we were clearly the last to touch the ball before it went out of bounds. auburn got away with a foul that should have been called intentional by any definition of the word. Lee Cassell, the Tebow ref as Alias calls him, once gave Anthony Grant a coach's box warning while Coach Grant was standing clearly within the coach's box. Coach Grant extended his arms, looked down at his feet, and looked back at Cassell from across the court as if to say, "um, where do you think I am?"
The crowd was very good, and I understand it was a sell out, although it was not filled to capacity. I was disappointed that student section did not fill up. Still, I would say there was probably close to 14,000 there, albeit most were probably there to see the trophy presentation at halftime. The trophy presentation was good, kudos to auburn's SGA president for actually being a good sport and singing along to Yea Alabama. I especially enjoyed Coach Saban's comments that he "has a lot of respect for the University of auburn."
As for the gray uniforms, everyone has an opinion, so here is mine. I thought they looked good, although a little Ohio State-ish. In fact, I would even go so far as to say I think they look better than our whites. That being said, I'm not a big fan of the alternate uniform gimmick. It's hard to envision the elite schools doing such, it reminds me of UGA football and $tate basketball wearing the black against Kentucky. But, I think they had fun with it and we backed it up with a win, so that's all that really matters.
The regular season is now over, and the new season begins. Up next, we are the very first game of the SEC tournament at Bridgestone arena in Nashville where we will take on the South Carolina Gamecocks at noon Thursday. This game worries me, as USC is coming off a big upset win over Vanderbilt and we all know Downey can be unstoppable when he gets on. South Carolina is usually good for 1 or 2 wins in the tournament, so we will have to be ready. Let's go make some noise and see if we can keep this 2 game winning streak rolling.