Auburn basketball heading to Final Four for first time

Auburn basketball heading to Final Four for first time
The Auburn basketball team celebrates their advancement to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament with injured teammate Chuma Okeke. (Wade Rackley/AU Athletics)

Auburn’s men’s basketball team is dancing its way into new territory.

For the first time in history, a team from the state of Alabama will play in the Final Four of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Auburn defeated fellow SEC team the Kentucky Wildcats 77-71 in overtime Sunday to capture the Midwest Region title in the Elite Eight round in Kansas City.

The Tigers’ tournament run has been both historic and impressive, becoming the first to ever defeat perennial basketball powers Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky back-to-back-to-back.

The Kentucky victory gave coach Bruce Pearl his 100th win at Auburn and Auburn posted its 30th win in a season for the first time ever.

“Just thank God for the blessings,” Pearl said after the win. “And I’m not sure that – we thought this was going to happen. I knew this group wanted to make history. I knew they wanted to play good basketball, and I knew they wanted to represent Auburn, the other student-athletes on our campus that can be for championships. And to do this in such an impressive way against the best teams and coaches in college basketball makes it even more rewarding.”

Auburn will take on a No. 1 tournament seed in Virginia in Minneapolis for the semifinal on April 6 at 5:09 p.m. on CBS.

“But we understand that we’ve got two more games to play in order to win a championship, and we’re going to try to continue to focus on that,” Pearl said.

The team played inspired in the second half against Kentucky with injured teammate Chuma Okeke, who injured his knee in Auburn’s 97-80 regional semifinal win over North Carolina, showing up courtside to cheer them on.

“Above all, I’m just happy we got it for Chuma,” said Bryce Brown, who scored 17 of his 24 points in the second half. “This game was specifically for him. We went out there and battled for him.”

In Auburn, students and fans gathered immediately after the victory to roll Toomer’s Corner and celebrate the win. The team also was greeted when they returned to campus from Kansas City Sunday night.

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