No. 11 Auburn faces tough matchup with No. 25 Washington
Two schools, known more for their prowess on the gridiron than on the hardwood, get a chance Friday to further establish themselves as a basketball school as well as a traditional football power.
No. 25 Washington, of the Pac-12 Conference, travels to Auburn, Ala., to take on the No. 11 Tigers of the Southeastern Conference, in a clash that should be a good early-season barometer for both of these programs.
Auburn (1-0) looked in midseason form in its season-opening win on Tuesday against South Alabama. The Tigers walloped the Jaguars, 101-58.
The Huskies, who are ranked in the preseason for the first time since 2011, got off to a sluggish start against Western Kentucky and rallied from a nine-point deficit to defeat the Hilltoppers, 73-55.
“Down nine at home, pressure is on, everyone wants to see the team,” Washington coach Mike Hopkins said. “And these guys showed a lot of poise, a lot of resiliency. They stayed together.”
Noah Dickerson came alive in the second half, scoring 16 of his 18 points in the final 20 minutes. His senior leadership was on display after Western Kentucky scored 17 straight points to close the first half.
Dickerson took matters into his own hands and scored eight straight points to help the Huskies pull away from the Hilltoppers for good.
“I hadn’t played in a while so it’s fun to get back into things,” Dickerson said. “The team was looking for me and I was getting back to doing what I was doing last year.”
Last year, all Dickerson did was score in double figures in 28 of 34 games while averaging 15.5 points per game. He’ll need to do some of the same against the Tigers, whose offense was 15th in the country last season in scoring and doesn’t look like it’s lost a beat after the first game.
The Huskies can’t afford to start off slow against Auburn. Just ask South Alabama, who trailed 24-7 in a blink of the eye.
Bruce Pearl’s squad was relentless from the get-go.
Anfernee McLemore scoring the Tigers’ first points of the season on a dunk. Then came an onslaught of 3-pointers and that’s, as they say, all she wrote for South Alabama, which trailed 52-33 at halftime.
“We started having control when we got our first defensive stop,” said Jared Harper, who scored 20 points and dished out a nation-high 13 assists. “We just know if we’re able to defend, we’re able to win every game. We like to build our offense from our defense. We were able to do that, create some turnovers, five-second counts, and that just led to open shots.”
Harper connected on six of the 18 3-pointers made by Auburn.
“We came out with a lot of energy,” Chuma Okeke, who also scored 20 points, said. “We just knew we had to start the season off right. We played together as a team. I feel like that was the big difference.”
Starting off strong has not been Washington’s strength — they also trailed Seattle Pacific at halftime of their exhibition game, and that could spell trouble for the Huskies in a dangerous environment like Auburn Arena.
For one, Pearl is relishing the idea of his veteran squad facing another veteran Power 5 team.
“Friday night is a very rare and unique opportunity,” Pearl said. “There’s never been a Top 25 (non-conference) team to come into Auburn Arena, and we’ve got one coming in on Friday night.”
The Huskies won’t face another team all year that can shoot the 3. Last year, the Tigers attempted 908 shots from beyond the arc, and connected on 324. Against South Alabama, the Tigers made 18 of 38 from 3-point range.
Last season, Washington held opponents to just 33 percent from 3-point range last year, so Friday’s game could come down to the 3-point game.
Another X-factor could be Auburn’s Austin Wiley, who before sitting out last season because of an NCAA investigation, had considered going to the NBA. As a true freshman, Wiley averaged 8.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
A left foot sprain has shelved him for most of the preseason and against Western Kentucky.
“I know (his return is) going to be coming in the next week or two,” Pearl told al.com. “We need him.”