By Mike Rodak | [email protected]
Alabama handed Auburn, one of two remaining undefeated teams in the country, its first loss Wednesday night at Coleman Coliseum.
The Crimson Tide never trailed in front of a sellout home crowd. They won, 83-64.
“That’s the kind of environment you want to play in front of,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “I told our players before the game, I think we’ve worked hard enough over the last nine months to deserve to play in an environment like this. Let’s go out there and give it everything we’ve got.”
Auburn, ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press poll this week, is the highest-ranked team Alabama has defeated since it upset then-AP No. 1 Stanford during the 2004 NCAA Tournament.
Auburn is also the highest-ranked team Alabama has defeated at Coleman Coliseum since then-No. 1 Arkansas, the eventual national champions, in January 1994.
Alabama attempted 21 three-pointers, tied for its fewest this season, and made only six, less than all but two previous games.
“It’s not really how we want to play,” Oats cautioned. The first-year coach has encouraged his players all season to shoot often from beyond the arc.
Yet the Tide turned in a defensive performance that held Auburn, the SEC’s second-highest scoring team behind Alabama entering the game, to its fewest points of the season.
“It was not our best offensive game,” Oats said. “But defensively that might’ve been our best game of the year. That’s how you win big games: defense and rebounding.”
Alabama improved to 9-7 and 2-2 in SEC play. They host Missouri on Saturday.
“We’ve been needing a signature win,” Oats said. “We were close a few times. Obviously we should’ve had the Florida game. But if we’re gonna make a run to try to play in the NCAA tournament, you’ve got to get signature wins. You’ve got to get these ones. We’re gonna have to get some road wins too.
“It’s good that get that monkey off our back. We kind of got a signature win, now. Now we’ve got to go on a run and get wins, period.”
Auburn fell to 15-1 and 3-1 in the conference, becoming the third top-five ranked team in the AP poll to lose this week. No. 3 Duke fell to Clemson on Tuesday, while Seton Hall topped No. 5 Butler on Wednesday.
“I’m very proud of my team for winning our first 15 games,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “I think you can see why I’ve been saying we’re a good team. I’ve yet to say we’re a very good team. Maybe you thought that was posturing — it really wasn’t.