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No. 3 Auburn’s game at No. 17 Tennessee Saturday on ESPN (4 p.m. eastern) could do much to decide the SEC regular season champion.
“That game has got championship implications,” Pearl said after his Auburn team defeated Ole Miss, 77-64, in Auburn Wednesday night. “I’m pretty happy about that on all ends.”
Pearl was Tennessee’s coach from 2005-11 and won the 2008 SEC title and reached two NCAA Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight before being fired in 2011 amid an NCAA investigation. After NCAA exile, he resurfaced at Auburn in 2014 and won the SEC title in 2018 and reached the Final Four in 2019.
“Look, Tennessee’s playing really, really good,” Pearl said of the Vols, who beat Missouri 80-61 on Tuesday. “We’re not playing our best basketball.”
Auburn has lost two of its last five — 80-76 at Arkansas in overtime on Feb. 8 and 63-62 at Florida last Saturday.
“But the good thing is, we know we can,” Pearl said. “We know there is room for improvement.”
Auburn center Walker Kessler continued to dominate in the win over Ole Miss as he scored 12 points with 10 rebounds and eight blocked shots, which put him at 131 for the season. He broke the school season record for blocked shots held by Kyle Davis for 19 years.
Forward Jabari Smith added 15 points with nine rebounds and five assists, and guard Zep Jasper scored 14 for the Tigers. Guard Wendell Green Jr. scored 14 off the bench with five rebounds and four assists.
Forward Luis Rodriguez scored 12 with six rebounds to lead Ole Miss (13-15, 4-11).
Another Saturday game with SEC title implications is No. 6 Kentucky (23-5, 12-3) at No. 18 Arkansas (22-6, 11-4) at 2 p.m. on CBS. Kentucky beat LSU, 71-66, Wednesday night behind forward Oscar Tshiebwe’s 22nd double-double of the season — 17 points and 16 rebounds. Point guard Xavier Pinson scored 26 for LSU (19-9, 7-8), which lost for the eighth time in 12 games.
Arkansas beat Florida, 82-74, on Tuesday.
In the other game Wednesday, South Carolina beat Mississippi State, 66-56, and will be at No. 24 Alabama (18-10, 8-7) at 6 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network. The Tide remains in the hunt for a fifth NCAA Tournament attendee after Auburn, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee.
“The SEC is going to get several teams in the Sweet 16 this year,” Pearl said. “Like, I think we could get at least three or four in. That’s how good I think our conference is. And guess what? It could come from any one of us that gets in. And if we can get there, then we have a chance to advance. But we’re not there.”