Alabama takes up-and-down season into second matchup with No. 1 Auburn Tuesday night

Alabama’s Jaden Shackelford (5) focuses on Auburn’s K.D. Johnson (0) during the Tigers’ 81-77 win in Coleman Coliseum on Jan. 11, 2022.

CW / David Gray

Alabama’s Jaden Shackelford (5) focuses on Auburn’s K.D. Johnson (0) during the Tigers’ 81-77 win in Coleman Coliseum on Jan. 11, 2022.

Austin Hannon, Staff Reporter

Three weeks ago tonight, the Auburn Tigers came into Coleman Coliseum and were given all they could handle from the Alabama Crimson Tide. After trailing by 14 with under eight to go, the Crimson Tide eventually tied the game at 77 before Auburn guard Allen Flanigan knocked down four free-throws to seal the deal for head coach Bruce Pearl’s bunch.

The Tigers celebrated on Alabama’s floor, mocking the “Crimson Crane” celebration until the fans clad in orange and blue were the last in the arena.

That has stuck with the Crimson Tide players, including forward Juwan Gary who wants to set things right Tuesday night.

“We look at that as motivation,” Gary said. “They got the win. They got to celebrate. Imitation is cool and all, but we just look at it as motivation.”

Forward James Rojas, who missed the game recovering from injury, learned a lot from sitting on the bench.

“You see everything different from the sideline,” Rojas said. “I think I can get out there and fix a couple of things.”

Since that night, the Tigers have extended their winning streak to 17 and have held the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll for two straight weeks.

One key to beating the Tigers is slowing down forward Jabari Smith, who torched the Crimson Tide for 25 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks. 

Alabama head coach Nate Oats believes Smith can be the top pick in the NBA Draft in late July. Alabama fouled Smith on jump shots in their January meeting, which got players like Juwan Gary, Keon Ellis and Darius Miles into foul trouble early and often.

“We got to stop fouling jump shooters,” Oats said. “Jabari Smith has NBA moves. You can’t get caught with your hands in there.”

But this game is more than X’s and O’s. In a rivalry that means so much to fans, this game is about bragging rights. For a long time, football ran the state. But since the arrival of Oats and Pearl, the two basketball programs have grown to new heights. 

Even though the two teams are enemies on the court, Oats hopes that the value of basketball will remain high in the state of Alabama for years to come.

“Bruce had a big head start,” Oats said. “He made the Final Four before I got here. I think we’ve gotten this program to a point where it’s talked about nationally. Hopefully moving forward, both of these programs are playing for championships.”

The Crimson Tide are coming off of a big win over No. 8 Baylor on Saturday and have continued to play up and down to their competition. Because of his team’s ability to play up, Oats has confidence his team can hang with the best again.

“I really do think the guys understand what it takes,” Oats said. “Nothing less than 100% effort is acceptable. If you look at our wins, we look like one of the best teams in the country. If you look at our losses, we look pedestrian.”

Alabama is sure to be tested by the environment of Auburn Arena, where the Tigers are 11-0 this season and have won by an average margin of almost 19 points per game.

“Obviously the Auburn game is always a big game,” Oats said. “I feel like there’s stuff we can learn from last game. I like playing over there. It’s a great environment. I told our guys this is why you put all of the work in, for games like this.”

Will Auburn students roll Toomer’s Corner again, or will the Crimson Tide use the toilet paper to wipe away the Tigers’ 17-game win streak? That question will be answered on Tuesday, Feb. 1, at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN.