During a teleconference for Final Four coaches, Auburn’s Bruce Pearl was asked about the importance of having a veteran team — something he said earlier in the NCAA Tournament that he felt was a big benefit for the Tigers.
Question: How has the veteran makeup of your roster been an impact for you in this tournament?
BRUCE PEARL: “I think the biggest impact, as far as our roster is concerned, before Chuma went down, we were playing ten guys double-digit minutes. Now, Chuma was probably playing 32, 33 minutes. He was our and still is our most valuable player. But then when he went down in the game against North Carolina, we got down to nine — and when I say “got down to nine,” some people think nine’s a lot, but it isn’t for me. I’ve always played nine, ten guys double-digit minutes. I think it makes for a healthy locker room. And when your guys begin to trust and rely on each other, it makes you, I think, a little bit more of a dangerous team.
“That said, if Bryce Brown and Jared Harper as experienced guards don’t step up and really have two great games, we don’t have a chance to get by a really good Kentucky team.
“So their experience — and the last thing I’ll say about experience is this: Last year, when we got down to seven scholarship players and we had a number of key injuries, we got destroyed by Clemson in the second round, and we just were absolutely unable to be competitive, and our guys, from that moment forward, our goal this year was unfinished business.
“When Auburn goes to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003 a year ago and wins a regular season championship, which only happened for the third time in school history, you wouldn’t think the kids would be talking about unfinished business. You’d think they’d be slapping themselves on the back and pretty proud of what they had accomplished. It was historic a year ago. Not this group.
“And so the reason sometimes some of the kids that are coming in at freshmen haven’t been able to advance past a certain round and not get to the Final Four, win a National Championship, is because they don’t have the experience of having not gotten there.
“Virginia had the experience of not getting there a year ago. That experience has helped them grind through this tremendous run they’ve had. That experience we had a year ago of not being able to advance through the tournament helped us as well.”