AUBURN, Ala. — Bruce Pearl straddled the line between playing it safe and pushing the issue as long as he could. Now, his Auburn basketball team will take the leap in its final on-campus practice before the NCAA Tournament.
Auburn will have a full-contact practice Tuesday — the first in several weeks. After starting center Anfernee McLemore suffered a season-ending injury to his left leg in February, the Tigers held nothing but non-contact practices to preserve a healthy eight-man rotation. The risk of another injury was too great.
Since then, Auburn has gone 2-4. Now, with a matchup against No. 13 seed College of Charleston coming Friday in San Diego, Pearl is letting the Tigers hit each other again.
“We’re going to go [Tuesday],” Pearl said before practice. “We went a little bit [Monday], we’re going to hit [Tuesday]. We’ve got to hit. We’ve got to guard them.”
Contact in practices isn’t completely necessary for basketball teams, but getting the action in drills as close to game intensity and physicality is important. Auburn got away from that down the stretch, winning only a pair of home games following McLemore’s injury.
Now that his Tigers are seeking to hit the reset button and get back to their winning ways, Pearl opened the week talking about the importance of returning to contact practices.
“If we’re going to get a reset, then we’re going to have to hit one day this week,” Pearl said Sunday.
Auburn shooting guard Bryce Brown, who suffered shoulder and foot injuries in the back half of the SEC season, sounded eager to get back to that type of practice. He said it would “definitely” help the Tigers.
“We haven’t went contact, live contact in a good minute,” Brown said Sunday. “It will be good, just getting back out there and competing and getting back into game shape.”
Pearl believes the contact practice could go a long way into getting his team ready for the College of Charleston, which relies on a methodical, drive-heavy offense and man-to-man defense. The upset-minded Cougars will play physical.
To counter that, Pearl is ready to take the plunge and pray for a healthy practice.
“We’re not playing well enough going into this tournament to win right now,” Pearl said. “We’re not. So we’ve got to get some things established in practice, and we’ve got to just take the risks. At this point, it goes to seven guys. We’re not good enough right now, playing the way we’re playing, to go win a game in the tournament. And I think practice [Tuesday] can help fix that.”