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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Tigers have been tougher to tame this season

by Wally Hall | February 8, 2022 at 2:42 a.m.

James Watson is an Auburn man.

He has degrees in chemical engineering and theology from there.

He has been a faithful fan since the day he enrolled there back in the 1960's. His mother, who until last week lived in Hot Springs Village, confessed that was the same day she became an Auburn fan.

His wife Cindy is a Tiger faithful.

His daughter Jennifer teaches classes at Auburn and fulfilling her dream to be part of the staff.

"Uncle Jimmy," as he is known to his nieces and nephews, including my wife, and his family are not typical fans.

They love and support their team, but they don't live and die with them.

After a very successful career as a chemical engineer that took him across the country and ending up in Oregon, Watson retired in Auburn.

The Watsons never think it is their place to call for a coach to be fired or hired.

That sets him apart from many of the Auburn fans who want great success yesterday and greater success today.

Before the basketball season, when Watson was visiting his mom and starting the plans to move her closer to him, he remarked that he didn't think Auburn basketball would be as good as last season.

"Lost too much scoring," he said and, indeed, the Tigers did lose four of their top six scorers.

Apparently it was addition by subtraction.

Last season, Auburn was 13-14 overall and 7-11 in SEC play.

Going into this season the Tigers were not being mentioned in the same breath with Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee or even Arkansas.

Now, though, they are 22-1, winners of 19 consecutive games. They are No. 1 in The Associated Press poll and No. 7 in the NCAA NET rankings.

They are atop the SEC standings with a two-game lead over Kentucky, who they beat 80-71. The Wildcats though have a NET ranking of No. 4.

Obviously between last season and this one, Bruce Pearl did what he does best, he recruited.

Their last loss was 115-109 to UConn in double overtime. It was a tournament game in the Bahamas and the Huskies shot 57.5% on threes (15-26) and outrebounded the Tigers 48-35.

The Huskies made 32 of 38 free throws and the Tigers 33 of 41, so it is safe to say the referees were not letting them play physical basketball.

Auburn is a physical team.

So is Arkansas.

Which makes tonight's game interesting.

They have the two longest winning streaks in the SEC, although Arkansas' is just eight games. But that's light years better than most expected when the Razorbacks lost to Oklahoma, Hofstra, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M in a 24-day span.

Tip-off is 6 p.m. on ESPN2 and Bud Walton is sold out. Razorback officials are asking those who aren't going to use their tickets to make them available to others.

The Tigers are favored by 2 1/2, which seems a little low for a team on this kind of run. A loss won't hurt the Hogs, but a win most likely would take them off the NCAA Tournament bubble and put them in the field for now.

They are currently ranked No. 37 in the NET rankings.

Neither team can afford a slow start, which is what allowed last place Georgia to cut a 12-point halftime deficit and come close before Auburn pulled it out 74-72.

Arkansas needs to shoot better, especially on threes where better shot selection would help. They were 4 of 19 from behind the arc in the 63-55 win over Mississippi State on Saturday.

This one could come down to which team gets the most points off turnovers and bench points. It could be a classic.

It should be a loud and rowdy Razorback welcome for Auburn.

Print Headline: Tigers have been tougher to tame this season


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