No. 11 Auburn opens SEC play at surging Ole Miss
Auburn is trying to repeat as SEC champion.
Ole Miss is trying to grow into an SEC contender in head coach Kermit Davis' first season.
Both teams will get a gauge of where they're at when they meet Wednesday night in Oxford, Miss.
The No. 11 Tigers (11-2) face a new challenge with a conference schedule that begins against a Rebels team that has won eight games in a row.
"The league this year is much better than it was a year ago," said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. "We have three or four teams in the top of our league that are good enough to get to the Elite 8 or Sweet 16.
"We've got to try and get every (win) that we can. It's just going to be a real grind."
Auburn is well rested for the start of the grind. It has had 10 days off since its last game -- a 95-49 win against North Florida on Dec. 29 that will have been its only game in 17 days.
"I would prefer to play, but I'm a glass half-full guy," Pearl said. "We will take this break and turn it into a positive."
The Tigers are hoping to get off to a fast start in SEC play just like they did last season. That team won its first four conference games and nine of its first 10. It finished 13-5 and won the program's first SEC title since 1999.
Auburn has four players averaging double-digit points, led by senior guard Bryce Brown at 15.3 points per game.
The Rebels (11-2, 1-0) weren't projected to contend for the SEC title, but Davis has them on a roll as excitement builds around campus. Ole Miss has its longest winning streak in six seasons after beginning SEC play with an 81-71 win at Vanderbilt on Saturday.
"I'm proud of our players and what they've been able to do in a short period of time," Davis said in the Commercial Appeal.
"I know we've got a lot of work ahead of us, but that's exactly why you want to come to Ole Miss and coach in the SEC -- to get these kinds of games on national TV (ESPN2) against a team that maybe can go to the Final Four in front of hopefully a sellout in your building."
Junior guard Breein Tyree scored a career-high 31 points against Vanderbilt and was named SEC Player of the Week. He hit a career-high 11 shots on 16 attempts after making his first six shots.
Tyree is the only SEC player to rank in the conference's top five in scoring (second at 18.4 points per game), field goal percentage (third at 53.7 percent), free throw percentage (fourth at 83.9 percent) and 3-point field goal percentage (fourth at 42.6 percent).
The Rebels' free-throw shooting was a big factor in the victory as they made 19 of 22 (86.4 percent), including 14 of 15 (93.3 percent) in the second half.
Now Ole Miss gets a chance to show whether it's ready to compete with a highly ranked team.
"I just want them to be the best version of themselves," Davis said. "Let (Auburn) see the best version of ourselves. Let them see who we are. Don't go out there and try to do things that we haven't done."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 8, 2019