AUBURN, Ala. — On Wednesday morning, Bruce Pearl was mentally preparing for a stressful, frustrating Valentine’s Day.
Auburn was hours away from its mid-week showdown against Kentucky, and it looked like the Tigers were going to be without Bryce Brown, their leading scorer.
“I talked to Coach [Pearl] this morning. I told him that I probably wasn’t going to go,” said Brown, who suffered a strained shoulder in last week’s loss to Texas A&M. He woke up the morning of the game and his shoulder was “really stiff.”
“We talked a little bit. Around shoot-around, it felt pretty good,” Brown said. “I was feeling good, so I decided to play.”
That decision changed and, perhaps, saved the day for Pearl and the Tigers. Though Brown was dealing with a sore shoulder by the end of the evening, he scored 18 points and No. 10 Auburn had handed Kentucky a 10-point loss inside Auburn Arena, winning 76-66.
Pearl hadn’t expected Brown to match his scoring average against the Wildcats. He certainly hadn’t anticipated that the junior would exceed it while dealing with the injury. Pearl was simply hoping to have one of his best defenders on the floor against John Calipari’s talented team.
That wasn’t good enough for Brown, however, who sank 4 of his 7 3-point attempts — 2 in the final 7 minutes — to help his team secure the victory.
“My teammates trust me at the moment,” Brown said. “Like I’ve always been told to do, just make plays. Our coach preaches that all the time. Coach Pearl preaches that all the time. You have to make plays defensively and offensively.”
There had never been a concern that Brown would risk further injury by playing. The problem had been his mobility. And while he clearly wasn’t himself throughout the 29 minutes he spent on the floor, his performance had been more than enough.
“I want to give our athletic trainer Clark Pearson a great deal of credit for getting Bryce Brown ready,” Pearl said. “I want to give Bryce a lot of credit because, this morning, he wasn’t sure he could play.”
Yet knowing his teammates might not be as confident and might have less of a chance of taking down Kentucky without him, Brown donned a brace and gave the Wildcats his best shot. The upperclassman’s average or spot on the Naismith top-30 list wasn’t on his mind, his teammates were.
“All week long, he was not a distraction. It wasn’t about him,” Pearl said. “It was about his team, so I give Bryce a lot of credit.”
Brown had a lot of help in tripping up Kentucky. Point guard Jared Harper also poured in 18 points and sophomore Anfernee McLemore stepped up several times on both ends of the floor during the final minutes. Still, Brown’s presence and hot hand made all the difference.
Before the game, Pearl told Brown he didn’t think Auburn would win without him. Pearl had been correct.
“This league is something else,” Pearl said. “You have to bring it every night, every single night. I told you weeks ago, we are good enough to beat everybody on our schedule, and we could lose to every team on our schedule.”
The post Bryce Brown wasn’t going to play vs. Kentucky, but Bruce Pearl glad he gutted it out appeared first on SEC Country.
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