Auburn has already lost to Kentucky twice this season heading into the Elite Eight matchup Sunday.

But that was obviously because the Tigers didn’t eat at a Japanese steakhouse the night before those games.

That’s right: The secret behind the hottest team in college basketball right now isn’t forcing turnovers or piling up points. It’s teppanyaki.

Coach Bruce Pearl actually called it Hibachi, but that’s a common mix-up. Hibachi is cooking on an open grated grill while teppanyaki uses a flat griddle. Welcome to the subtleties of Japanese cuisine.

Anyway, no chain Benihanas for the Tigers. They frequent Mikata back home in Auburn, Ala.

“I was there the other day, as a matter of fact,” Pearl said. “It’s dinner and a show, of course. Of course our guys love the show as much as they love the dinner.”

These restaurants often add an entertainment factor, with chefs using daring knife skills to cook the meal in front of guests and toss bits of food into their mouths. Kind of make sense that Auburn would be into that sort of thing, since they are one of the more thrilling teams to watch.

Pearl said his players pretty much order the restaurant out of food so they have leftovers to take home. “I get double steak, double shrimp, double lobster, double rice,” senior guard Bryce Brown said of his go-to order.

When Auburn faced Kentucky at home in January, the team for some unknown reason ate at a different place and lost 82-80. On the road in February, the Tigers ate at the hotel and took their worst loss of the season, 80-53.

So Pearl confirmed his team will eat at one of Kansas City’s finest establishments Saturday night.

“We are undefeated eating at a Japanese steakhouse out the night before the game,” Pearl said.

Megan Ryan