When one hears three of the most monumentous words in sports, The Iron Bowl, their minds tout de suite will wander to the direction of one of college football’s most revered rivalries. The annual matchup between Alabama and Auburn on the football gridiron draws millions of viewers in the Heart of Dixie and across the country. However, while the football game garners national attention annually, the Iron Bowl of Basketball is reserved for only the most passionate and intense University of Alabama fans. After all, it takes a lot of love to root for a team that’s had more downs than ups in recent years.
While not as many Alabama fans tune in or show up for the basketball matchup, the level of passion held out by those that choose to participate certainly matches the intensity, if not usurps it altogether. Alabama basketball holds a sacred place in the hearts of so many Tier 1 Tide faithful, and the outcome of this game means just as much, if not more, to many. Indulge me for a short while as I take you on a journey through some of the most memorable matchups in this rivalry, which we colloquially call the Iron Bowl of Basketball.
Alabama and Auburn first met on the court on March 1st, 1924, almost 96 years ago, in the Southern Conference tournament in Atlanta. Head Coach Hank Crisp led the Crimson Tide in a 40-19 blowout victory. This was only 12 years after the school first fielded a basketball team. Alabama would finish this season 15-4, while Auburn went an abysmal 3-11.
The first ever Iron Bowl of Basketball matchup where both teams were ranked in the Top-25 finally arrived on January 15th, 1955. #16 Alabama handily defeated #20 Auburn 99–78. They would later beat Auburn for the second time that year 84-80. Alabama, under head coach Johnny Dee, finished that season with a mark of 18-5, ranked 12th.
On February 27, 1960, Auburn would clinch it’s first-ever SEC title (out of only six) on a last-second layup in overtime. My grandfather still says to this day that Auburn cheated. I have no reason to believe otherwise. It should be noted that this squad, led by Dr. Eugene Lambert, finished the season 7-17, and lost 3 times to Auburn by scores of seven, three, and two, in that order. Dr. Lambert would resign after this year to become AD at Memphis State, with a record of 49-49 while directing Tide hoops.
On January 22nd, 1972, Auburn had dominated the series as of late, winning 26 of 30 matchups. Coach C. M. Newton, Wendell Hudson, and Alan House walked into Coleman on a mission to change things. The Tide stomped Auburn at home 89-66, finally bringing balance back into the world.
On January 3rd, 1977, Coach C. M. Newton led 3rd-ranked Alabama into Lee County to take on #20 Auburn on the road. Bama was able to survive a late Auburn onslaught to win 74-71. It’s widely believed that this team was snubbed by the NCAA tournament, and instead had to participate in the NIT.
On January 5, 1983, led by Charles Barkley, Auburn upsets #5 Alabama 91–80. Alabama, led by Wimp Sanderson, would finish the season 20-12, losing in round 1 or the NCAA tournament.
On March 9, 2018, after trailing by 10 points at halftime of the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, #9 seed Alabama outscored #1 seed Auburn 50–22 in the second half to win 81–63. It was the first time a 9 seed had defeated a 1 seed in the SEC Tournament.
January 15, 2020 – Under first year coach Nate Oats, Alabama handed #4 Auburn its first loss of the season 83–64, This was the first time Alabama had beaten a top 4 team since 2004.
Overall, the Tide and Tigers (or Eagles, or whatever) have played 162 times on the basketball court. Over those games, Alabama controls a commanding lead overall, with 97 wins to Auburn’s 65.
The game has been played in 10 cities: Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Montgomery, Atlanta, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Orlando, and St. Louis. Alabama leads the series in Tuscaloosa (50–10), Atlanta (2–1), Louisville (2–0), Memphis (1–0), Nashville (1–0), Orlando (1–0), and St. Louis (1-0). Auburn leads the series in Auburn (33–27), Montgomery (17–9) and Birmingham (4–3). In games played at neutral sites, the Tigers lead (22–20); in games played during the SEC Tournament, the Crimson Tide lead (8–2); and in games played during the SEC Tournament Championship, the Tigers lead (1–0). In games in which only Auburn was ranked, the Tigers have a 12–4 record; in games in which only Alabama was ranked, the Tide have a 26–8 record. In games in which both teams were ranked, Alabama leads 4–0. A total of 12 games have gone past regulation, with the Tigers leading at 8–4. Alabama holds the longest winning streak in the series with 11, spanning from 1976-1981.
Alabama has more SEC conference tournament championships (7) than Auburn (2), as well as more regular season conference championships (8) than Auburn (4). Alabama has been invited to the NCAA tournament 21 times, Auburn has only been 10 times.
So ends the history lesson on the Iron Bowl of Basketball. Get ready for Saturday, as the Tide takes on Auburn in Auburn live on ESPN2 at 11am Central. Also stay tuned for my extensive preview of the upcoming game later in the week.
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