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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

War Eagle, War History, War Final Four

Never say never. Auburn's going to the Final Four.

Never say a football school can't excel at basketball. Auburn's going to the Final Four.

Never say past is prologue, history is destiny and you should stay in your lane. Auburn's going to the Final Four, for the love of Charles Barkley, and the Tigers spilled three gallons of blue blood to get there.

No one in the history of college basketball had ever beaten Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky in succession in the NCAA Tournament - until Auburn rock chalked the Jayhawks in the Round of 32, spanked the Crying Jordans in the Sweet 16 and humbled the Big Blue Nation in the Elite Eight.

You could've gotten better odds on Switzerland to take down Germany, Italy and Japan in World War II.

Of course it took overtime to beat Kentucky in the regional final in Kansas City. Of course Auburn missed the last shot in regulation that would've won the game. Of course Auburn had to overcome the torn ACL Chuma Okeke suffered Friday as well as a frigid shooting start Sunday along with deep foul trouble.

Making history isn't supposed to be easy, but if you have a Little General like miniature point guard Jared Harper leading the charge, history is there for the taking. Auburn took it because Elite Eight overtime is about grit and guts and great players like Harper making great plays when the moment demands them.

You could feel it through the television when they wheeled Okeke into the Sprint Center at halftime. There was no way this team was going to lose this game. This team was going to find a way to finish its unbelievable unbeaten march through March. This team was going to take an entire state full of long-suffering basketball fans where it had never been before.

Until this magical mystery tour, UAB, Auburn and Alabama each had reached the threshold of the Final Four once - the Blazers in 1982, the Tigers in 1986, the Tide in 2004 - but none of them had been able to break through the door.

Thirty-three years ago, Chuck Person and Auburn led Never Nervous Pervis Ellison and Louisville by a point with a shade more than three minutes left in that Elite Eight, but Sonny Smith's Tigers watched history slip from their grasp.

It's only fitting that Smith would be there on the radio call Sunday as Bruce Pearl, another roundball rogue in the best Auburn tradition, pushed all the right buttons through the cold start and the foul trouble and the on-court absence of his most talented player. These Tigers did more than break through the door. They tore down the wall. For all of us.

It's not easy being a basketball player, coach, team or fan in a football state, but there's a sense that though we live on an island of misfit toys in a hundred-yard sea, we're all in this together.

Diehard Auburn fans may not say it or believe it, but I will because I do: This one was for everyone. For Mo Finley, Lance Weems and Leon Douglas, state stars who stayed home to grow the game. For the 1982 UAB team, the 1986 Auburn team and the 2004 Alabama team, which came so close and gave us hope. For longtime Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson, who gave us so many teams that gave us so many memories. For the spirit of C.M. Newton, the Alabama coach who taught us to judge players on the content of their character, and Gene Bartow, the father of UAB athletics, who started a basketball program in Birmingham and challenged an entire state to raise its game.

Because an undersized, undermanned Auburn team refused to bow in the face of basketball royalty, an entire state has been lifted up. If this isn't basketball heaven, at least, for the first time, you can see it from here.

War Eagle. War History. War Final Four.

The first men's Final Four rolling in Toomer's Corner history. Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics

1 comment

1 Comment

John Moody
John Moody
Apr 01, 2019

Great to be able to read your articles again, Kevin! #UaBFamily

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