AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn coach Tony Barbee insists the absence of Alabama star Tony Mitchell won't have a big impact on Tuesday night's rivalry game.
"These games like this are always played at a high level regardless of who the personnel is," Barbee said. "They're going to miss a lot with him on the floor. But in the scheme of things, when you talk about this type of rivalry, it doesn't matter who's on the floor."
It does likely make it more challenging for the Crimson Tide, which has struggled on the road even with the experienced Mitchell. Alabama coach Anthony Grant announced Monday that he has suspended his team's No. 2 scorer and rebounder indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team.
Grant said the suspension was an accumulation of things not just one incident.
Alabama has won the last three meetings with the Tigers, but is 2-5 on the road this season. Auburn has flourished at home in winning 12 of 13 games and is coming off a three-point loss at No. 20 Mississippi State.
Mitchell's suspension came just as he and the Tide had shaken themselves out of slumps. Alabama won back-to-back home games against Arkansas and Mississippi after a four-game skid, and Mitchell has scored in double digits three straight outings after managing 14 points in the previous three combined.
He came off the bench for the first time this season in the double-overtime win over the Rebels, leaving Grant with three freshmen in the starting lineup with forward JaMychal Green. Mitchell is averaging 13.1 points and 7.0 rebounds.
Grant said he would decide his lineup after Monday's practice.
Green said he was disappointed with Mitchell's suspension, "but at the same time it's a coach's decision."
"Of course we're going to need him," he said. "It's time for our freshmen and sophomores to step up, come off the bench and provide what we need."
For Auburn, that's what sixth man Varez Ward has been doing. The point guard scored 24 points in a 91-88 loss at No. 20 Mississippi State and has 53 over the last three games.
Now, the Montgomery native, who started his career at Texas, gets to experience firsthand the rivalry he watched growing up.
"It's very special," Ward said. "I grew up watching this rivalry a lot. This rivalry is big and I'm glad to be part of it finally."
The Tigers have still dropped three of four despite his hot streak. The rivalry has turned since Auburn had won six of seven.
The Tide won the last meeting 51-49 at Alabama on Green's tap-in with three-tenths of a second left.
While Alabama has dominated the series at home, the Tigers hold a 26-25 advantage in Auburn.
Their only loss this season at Auburn Arena came 68-53 to No. 1 Kentucky on Jan. 11 in a game that was close until the final minutes.
"It's a big game and we know it, but for us it's the next game on our home court," Barbee said. "It's been a goal of ours to not lose at home this year. We've only given one away and that was a hard-fought game against Kentucky.
"Obviously we want to beat Alabama, but more importantly we want to protect our home floor."