By Joseph Goodman | [email protected], posted from AL.COM
There were Pearls screaming at Auburn players from both sides of the court on Saturday night in Salt Lake City.
There was Bruce Pearl, Auburn’s animated always-hoarse coach, bouncing and pacing and perspiring up and down the Auburn bench on one side of the court, and then there was Jackie Pearl in the front row directly opposite of her father.
Jackie, who is Bruce’s oldest child, screams louder than her dad. This is not an exaggeration. And she has things to say. Jackie has one-liners.
“Oh my God!” she screamed during Auburn’s 89-75 victory against Kansas. “Someone grab a rebound! I can’t!”
Her Tigers were up by 20 points at the time with about four minutes to play. Jackie’s hair was dyed a thoughtful shade of auburn when she screamed, moments later, “Hey, Blue, you gotta keep playing! You gotta keep playing, Blue!”
Every Auburn fan felt the same way because that score against that opponent just didn’t feel real. Believe it now, though. These Tigers are headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003, and they’re playing like a team that can maybe go a little further than that. They’ll take on the winner of Sunday’s second-round game between Washington and North Carolina next Friday in Kansas City.
Plan your travel accordingly, Auburn fans, because Jackie Pearl needs some more Tigers around her for the second weekend of this 2019 NCAA Tournament. There weren’t enough Auburn fans in Vivint SmartHome Arena on Saturday to reflect properly just how incredible this Auburn team is playing right now. They’ve won 10 in a row, they won the SEC Tournament and now they’re two victories away from the Final Four.
“I felt like before the game we were in a good position to make history,” Bruce Pearl said.
Auburn made Kansas look like a bunch of corn stalks in sneakers. Kansas was due an implosion, truth be told. This Jayhawks team was shorthanded entering this NCAA Tournament, but Auburn made Rock Chalk look like a 16-seed.
Every Auburn fan alive will remember where they were for this one. Football is the religion, of course, but there is just something so electrifying about winning a big basketball game in March.
Auburn’s first-round miracle was a heart stopper, and the second-round blowout was a jaw dropper.
Bryce Brown, Auburn’s three-point specialist, played basketball against Kansas like he cheated death in the first round. It was Brown who fouled the three-point shooter with 1.1 seconds left against New Mexico State. Think about what was going through his mind on Thursday when New Mexico State guard Terrell Brown was at the free-throw line to win the game.
All the bad things.
Now contrast that with his performance against Kansas. He was 9 of 13 from the field and 7 of 11 from 3-point range for 25 points. He couldn’t miss to begin the first half. He started the game 5 of 5 from beyond the arc.
It’s good to be alive!
“It starts on the defensive side of the ball with us,” Brown said. “Typically, when we start off hot on a defensive end, we start off hot on the offensive end.”
Auburn led by 17 points eight minutes into the game. They led by 19 with 8:36 to go in the first half and then by 26 at halftime. Two days before the game, sportsbooks in Las Vegas opened the point spread between Auburn and Kansas at dead even.
Safe to say Auburn’s next opponent will not be undervaluing them like everyone did entering the Round of 32.
Auburn isn’t supposed to be this good. It’s a football school. That was the general opinion here in Salt Lake City and nationally after the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Something is happening now, though. Pearl is transforming Auburn into a basketball school. Given a chance by Auburn after three years away from the sport, Pearl is paying the university back 100 times over.
Auburn is headed to just its fifth Sweet 16 in school history, but this doesn’t feel like an outlier or a one-off. This is no fluke. This was hard earned and deserved and feels like the start of something new and different.
“I’ve been to 11 Sweet 16s in my career, so I feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” Pearl said. “Now let’s see if we can advance.”
He’ll be taking his entire, highly vocal family with him, and at Auburn that means something a little different.