Auburn basketball's Bruce Pearl: Kentucky will be 'biggest home game' of his Tigers tenure

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AUBURN — If Auburn vs. Kentucky on Saturday is indeed the "clash of titans" that Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl advertises it to be, then it's not his first matchup against Kentucky coach John Calipari to meet that billing.

There was the 2019 Elite Eight, when Auburn knocked off Kentucky 77-71 to reach the program's first Final Four. There was the 2008 game when Pearl coached Tennessee and Calipari coached Memphis. That was a classic between the No. 2 and No. 1 teams in the country. Pearl's Vols ended Memphis' perfect season in a 66-62 thriller: "The environment was Super Bowl-like," Pearl recalled Thursday.

But in terms of significance, not even that game matches the next Pearl-Calipari showdown. At least in Pearl's mind. When No. 2 Auburn (17-1, 6-0 SEC) meets No. 12 Kentucky (15-3, 5-1) on Saturday (12 p.m., CBS), the winner will be in first place in the SEC with no more regular-season matchups between the Tigers and Wildcats.

"This one actually means more" than the 2008 game, Pearl said. "Doesn't matter if you're 1 or 2: Both teams are playing for championships."

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He also framed the game's context in terms of his eight-year Auburn tenure: "It's probably the biggest home game since I've been coaching."

This is the 12th season in which the Tigers have played at Auburn Arena. Never have two top-12 teams met in the venue. Pearl, never shy to toss out a superlative, was frank about this matchup's significance. Auburn has won 14 straight and is also lobbying for its first No. 1 ranking in program history.

"Take away the rankings: The winner of this game is going to be at least in control of the regular season championship moving forward, because we only play them once," he said. "So it's a huge opportunity for either team to kind of put themselves in position where everybody else is going to be looking up at you."

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Pearl is 8-13 in his career against Calipari.

"It's great that on a Saturday in the middle of January, all eyes of the country will be on Auburn, Alabama, on CBS, on a Saturday afternoon. And it'll be for men's basketball. That's something that you might not have said a few years ago."

This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Bruce Pearl hypes up Auburn basketball's home game vs. Kentucky

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