TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — During his first taste of the Alabama-Auburn rivalry, Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson admittedly felt “kind of like an outsider.”
Johnson had heard all about how intense the instate rivalry could be, but without experiencing it, he didn't truly understand the passion behind it.
“Now, I understand why it means so much to so many people,” Johnson said Friday when previewing Saturday’s matchup with Auburn. “I'm not an outsider anymore. I've been through it. I think I'm embracing it much more than I did the first time around.”
Back on Jan. 19, Johnson’s team lost a 83-77 nail biter on the plains. Auburn went to the free throw line for 40-plus free throw attempts. Following that contest, Johnson stated he wished he could play the Tigers again immediately. He's fully engulfed by the rivalry now.
“When the ball was tipped on their court, and we're going back and forth, and everybody is pretty much laying it all out on the line, and then when you go walk in that locker room and it's an L (lose), you feel it,” Johnson said. “It's kind of the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat. I feel it a lot more this time around. We're at home, and there's no side stepping it.”
Alabama (16-11, 7-8 SEC) hosts Auburn (11-16, 5-10 SEC) on Saturday at 4 p.m. CT in Tuscaloosa on the SEC Network.
While not going winless against a rival is important, the Tide also needs a victory to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive.
After winning five straight conference games, the Tide enters the Iron Bowl on a two-game losing skid, including a “bad” home loss to Mississippi State in terms of RPI and a beating at Kentucky.
As of Feb. 26, Alabama comes into its game vs. Auburn with an RPI of No. 45 and a strength of schedule of No. 17 in the nation, according to ESPN.com. The Tide’s RPI ranks fifth-best in the SEC, while its SOS is second-best in the league.
Alabama ranks second in the SEC with 5 wins vs. the RPI top 50 (5-6).But another “bad” loss could end the Tide’s hopes of making the dance.Coming off back-to-back losses, Johnson believes his team is ready to respond after having what he described as the group’s best practice in “two months” on Thursday.
“I see a team that's back to normal in terms of their focus,” Johnson said. “We've responded well after a loss to Kentucky.”Alabama beat South Carolina by 23 points after its loss to Kentucky in January.
Contact Anniston Star Sports Writer Marq Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @Marq_Burnett.