|No. 22 Auburn aims to reverse recent history vs. Gamecocks|
Auburn will have the higher national ranking and South Carolina the higher tournament seeding when the Tigers and Gamecocks meet in the Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals on Friday afternoon in Nashville, Tenn.
Add in a tight, 80-77 South Carolina win in the teams' lone regular-season meeting, and the contest should be a pick 'em, right?
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl is unconvinced.
"Frank Martin owns me," Pearl blurted of the South Carolina coach in a television interview minutes after his 22nd-ranked club had eliminated Missouri 81-71 in the tournament's second round Thursday.
Asked again to assess the matchup moments later at his postgame press conference, Pearl repeated, "Frank Martin has my number. Not just my phone number, but my number. What they do defensively bothers us. They extend. Makes it hard to run your stuff. You overplay. They're physical, they're tough."
The Tigers were the tougher team for 39 1/2 minutes in the January meeting at South Carolina, taking a 77-75 lead into the final 30 seconds of the game.
However, Felipe Haase buried a 3-pointer and Chris Silva capped a 32-point, 14-rebound effort with two subsequent free throws to account for the three-point difference.
That win is what allowed the Gamecocks (16-15) to win a tiebreaker over the Tigers (23-9) and gain the No. 4 seeding in the tournament after both finished 11-7 in SEC action.
So instead of having to play a second-round game as the fifth seed, as Auburn did Thursday against Missouri, South Carolina earned a bye to within one win of its first trip to the SEC semifinals since 2006.
Martin had a front-row seat for Auburn's relatively easy dispatching of Missouri, the same team that handed South Carolina its most recent loss on March 2.
"My whole thing was to get a feel," Martin said of his goal in watching the game, insisting he had no rooting interest. "I can tell you this: The feel I took from that game is Auburn is defending at a high, high level right now. Their physicality was impressive to see in person."
The Tigers might have been overly physical in the earlier meeting. They sent Silva to the free-throw line 11 times, and he made 10.
When they weren't fouling him, Silva was basically unstoppable, hitting 11 of his 12 shots. South Carolina outshot Auburn 46.9 percent to 41 percent in the game.
The Friday game matches two teams on winning streaks, with the Tigers having won five straight while the Gamecocks closed out the SEC regular season with a pair of wins.
South Carolina has beaten Auburn in four of their past five meetings, and also has a win in the teams' most recent head-to-head in the SEC tournament, a 74-56 romp at the Georgia Dome in 2014.
The winner will face either top-seeded LSU or eighth-seeded Florida in the semifinals.
Senior guard Bryce Brown, who scored 17 in the January loss to South Carolina, paced the Tigers with 17 against Missouri.
--Field Level Media