Solid defensive play has been a key part of Auburn’s strong start to the season.
With coach Bruce Pearl back on the sideline, the No. 13 Tigers need to remain stout on the defensive end when they try for a seventh straight victory on Saturday night against offensively potent Saint Louis.
Only once this season has Auburn (9-1) allowed an opponent to score more than 68 points. That came in the Tigers’ lone defeat, 115-109 in double-overtime to Connecticut at the Battle 4 Atlantis last month. While Auburn allows 65.1 points per contest, opponents are shooting just 38.8 percent overall and 32.3 percent from 3-point range.
During a 70-44 home rout of North Alabama on Tuesday, the Tigers might have played their most complete defensive game on the young campaign. The Lions shot just 29.5 percent, went 6 of 25 from 3-point range and committed 18 turnovers. Auburn also recorded 11 blocked shots, extending its season total to 75, which ranks among the most in the nation.
“I think we’re one of the best defensive teams in the country,” 7-foot-1 Walker Kessler, who had 14 points with eight rebounds and five blocks on Tuesday, told AL.com.
“So, I think it’s only a matter of effort. And I think our ball-screen coverage is elite. I think our coaching staff does a great job with the scout. I think it’s all of those coming together, why we’re so good on the defensive end.”
With Pearl back on the bench after serving his two-game suspension stemming from the recent NCAA ruling regarding violations by former assistant coaches of the program, Auburn will play at an opponent’s campus arena for the first time this season. The Tigers also should face a stiff challenge against a Saint Louis squad that ranks among the national leaders with an average of 83.2 points while shooting 47.9 percent.
However, the Billikens (8-3) have scored just 70 points per contest while going 1-2 in December. They avoided a third consecutive loss with a 79-68 home victory over Boston College on Dec. 11.
Gibson Jimerson (16.7 points per game) and Francis Okoro each scored 19 while Yuri Collins added 14 and set the single-game school assist mark with 19 as Saint Louis regained its offensive form. The Billikens shot 52.7 percent and went 11 of 27 from 3-point range to get back on track after taking back-to-back, five-point home defeats to UAB and Belmont.
“Everybody’s been a little on edge and the players have been frustrated,” Billikens coach Travis Ford said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We had a lot of time to reflect and figure out what to do better.
“It’s amazing what can happen with an attitude and sustained effort, where you almost lose yourself in the game. We haven’t necessarily had that.”
Saint Louis hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since March 2013, having lost the past 15 consecutive such contests. Auburn, meanwhile, has won 14 in a row against unranked nonconference opponents.
In a collectively poor shooting performance from both teams, Auburn beat Saint Louis 67-61 in the most recent meeting on Dec. 14, 2019.
–Field Level Media