There are two things Auburn coach Bruce Pearl is certain of: His No. 22 Tigers are still alive in the SEC tournament, and they will be shooting 3s from the parking lot when they arrive at the Bridgestone Arena on Saturday for a semifinal matchup against unranked Florida.
Auburn (24-9), seeded fifth in the tournament, defeated South Carolina 73-64 on Thursday to advance to the semifinals against eighth-seeded Florida (19-14). The Gators are still alive thanks to 76-73 upset of ninth-ranked and top-seeded LSU on a 3-pointer by freshman guard Andrew Nembhard with less than 2 seconds left.
"Look, we set an SEC record, all time, for the most threes (949 in 33 games, an average of 28.8 per game)," Pearl said. "We don't just make a lot of them. We shoot a good percentage (37.4 percent). We work at them really hard."
Pearl knows it is too late to change his team's stripes this late in the season, even if he wanted to. The Tigers defeated Florida at home 76-62 on Feb. 5, marking the first time since 1999 that Auburn had beaten the Gators on its home court.
In that game, Bryce Brown led Auburn with 14 points and the Tigers snapped an 11-game losing streak against Florida. The Gators had won 21 of the previous 22 games.
Florida was at less than full strength in February because Kevarrius Hayes did not start the game after being late for a team meeting. He finished with 11 points, and Florida coach Mike White was upset by his team committing 17 turnovers.
"It was the first time I'd beaten Coach White since he came into the league," Pearl said. "He is a brilliant young coach. They are hard to guard. They switch a lot, so we're going to have to find ways to be able to score on them. They're a dangerous team, too, because they spread it. We played very well at home in our victory."
Auburn has won six consecutive games. After knocking off Missouri 81-71 in its SEC tournament opener -- a game in which the Tigers' Jared Harper had just five points in 27 minutes -- Harper exploded for a team-high 27 points against the Gamecocks. Brown scored 19 points and Samir Doughty added 10 points for the Tigers.
"Offensively, we kind of spread and got downhill a little bit," Pearl told the media after the game. "They couldn't keep Jared in front of them. That was an issue. Jared did a great job of attacking the glass, finishing and getting to the free throw line.
Florida needed a quality win over a nationally ranked team to improve its chances of making the NCAA Tournament, and got just that with the three-point victory over LSU. The Gators led 73-70 with less than a minute left but LSU tied the game with 16 seconds remaining on a 3-pointer by freshman forward Naz Reid.
But Keyontae Johnson then drove to the basket, the LSU defense collapsed, and Johnson passed to an open Nembhard at the top of the key. Nembhard did the rest.
"LSU is one of the best teams in the country," White said. "Obviously, a very big win. We did just enough to beat a very good team."
--Field Level Media