The record will tell you that Auburn and Georgia is a tightly contested basketball series, and it is over the span of 115 years. But it hasn’t been very close lately.
The Tigers have won six of 10 in the four seasons since coach Bruce Pearl arrived on the scene, including the past four games before Saturday’s contest at Auburn Arena. Auburn’s average margin of victory in those past four – 14.5 points.
That recent streak of dominance has pushed the Tigers ahead in 95-94 in all-time meetings. On the home hardwood, that breaks down to 65-25 for Auburn and 65-27 for the Bulldogs.
Georgia (10-4, 0-1 SEC) will be looking to even the overall ledger again, but it will take a major upset as the Tigers (14-0, 2-0) will be playing host as the nation’s No. 5-ranked team. Tipoff for the game was moved to 11 a.m. Central time from an original start time of 5 p.m. because of intense storms that are supposed to hit the area in the afternoon to evening hours.
“We’ll just have to adjust,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said before the Bulldogs practiced mid-afternoon Friday. “We’ll try to go a little shorter and leave little earlier today. We’ll do things earlier tonight. It certainly cuts into your day-of-the-game walk-through. … It just condenses everything down, and we’ll do the best we can with it.”
Georgia will travel to Auburn by bus, as it always does. The team will stay there overnight and return immediately after the game. Heavy rain and gusting winds of up to 50 mph are in the forecast.
Could it be an advantage for the Bulldogs on Saturday catching the Tigers early in the day and the bad weather possibly spoiling a would-be sellout?
“I have no idea,” Crean said. “I don’t look at it like that. I look at it like that’s the hand that’s dealt right now, and it certainly makes sense. I get it completely. I don’t look at it as an advantage or disadvantage. It just is what it is.”
The Bulldogs will arrive with an inherent sense of belief. Nobody was giving them a chance when they traveled to Memphis to play the No. 9-ranked Tigers. Georgia left as 65-62 victors Saturday.
“That win, that game, definitely helped us and helped our younger guys,” said senior Jordan Harris, who has stood out for the Bulldogs after missing the first nine games because of suspension. “It was beneficial for a game like this coming up.”
Regardless of what atmosphere awaits, the Tigers will be tough. Most of their players are back from last year’s Final Four team, including five seniors and freshman Isaac Okoro of Powder Springs, who is the team’s second-leading scorer. Auburn is typically high-scoring, averaging 82.1 points a game, and its winning games by an average of 15.4 points.
However, the Tigers narrowly escaped Vanderbilt in its last outing at Auburn Arena, winning 83-79.
Okoro is the latest of many great players Auburn has plucked out of metro Atlanta. The Bulldogs play the Tigers bi-annually as one of their three traditional rivals (Florida and South Carolina are the others), so Crean knows he needs to change the recent trend in the series.
“He’s got a huge advantage; he’s actually been there a lot longer than I’ve been here,” Crean said of Pearl, who has been at Auburn since 2014. “He’s had a chance to build it like he really wants to build it. I give him credit for that. … If we’d been here the same amount of time, it might be a different story.”
The Tigers return to Georgia on Feb. 19.
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