Can Bama get it done at Auburn?

Most Alabama fans will look at the Crimson Tide's 69-46 thrashing of Auburn in January and smile. But, as coach Mark Gottfried would say, there's no reason to expect similar results for the Tide's trip to Auburn tonight.

"Auburn is playing much, much better than they were playing earlier in the year," Gottfried said. :The fact they went down to LSU and won--and really it was a 20-point game most of the game--that really gets your attention."

Both Alabama and Auburn are desperately trying to finish the season strong, hoping to impress the NCAA Selection Committee.

Gottfried commented, "I'm sure it will be a great, great opportunity for both teams, and I know our guys are excited about playing Auburn and going down there tomorrow night."

According to Gottfried, Bama's earlier win over the Tigers really means nothing because Auburn's injury situation is different than it is now. Two key starters are healthy, and that's enough to scare anyone.

"I think the first time we played Auburn, it's a strange game as far as Brandon Robinson was hurt," Gottfried said. "He'd hurt himself earlier in the game and didn't return. Lewis Monroe, it was just his second game coming back. I think they were a little bit out of sync at that point in time. They're obviously a much more cohesive unit and healthy and better than they were the first time we played them."

"When they're healthy, this is a team that a lot of people picked to win the West. They have potential and the pieces to play with anybody. They proved that at LSU. This is an excellent basketball team."

In downing Mississippi State last Saturday, Alabama shot lights-out overall and from beyond the three-point line. In the first Alabama/Auburn game, the Tigers were very poor from the field.

Gottfried commented, "Obviously everything helps when you shoot the ball better, and we've been a team that has shot the ball pretty well all year long, especially from the 3-point line. We've got to go on the road to Auburn and hopefully do the same thing."

Will tape of the first game help much in scouting for tonight?

"Not a lot," Gottfried replied. "I watched a tape and it was almost easier just to turn it off because it was almost like an aberration. It wasn't real as far as this one will be. Auburn didn't play very well; we shot the ball really well, so that was just kind of a unique day."

Gottfried said that the key to stopping Auburn would be to stop its leading scorer, Marco Killingsworth. The 6-4 junior forward led the Tigers with 17 points in the loss in Tuscaloosa. He leads the Tigers in scoring at 14 points per game.

Earnest Shelton leans in to take the shot. Bama needs another good shooting performance to have a chance at Auburn. (AP photo)

"They play their best when he plays his best," Gottfried said. "He's unique to defend because he's left handed. He's really matured and developed into a really good player in our conference."

Fortunately for the Tide, it seems to be in the best health it has been in all year. Leading scorers Kennedy Winston and Earnest Shelton have been hobbled by knee injuries, and point guard Antoine Pettway has been limited by a shoulder injury over the past few weeks, but better health seems to be upon this Alabama basketball team.

"We went through a stretch where we were banged up and tender," Gottfried said. "We're not having issues with knees as we did early. Our guys are getting a lot of treatment, but not having the issues as we had a few weeks back."

The victory at No. 4 Mississippi State brought a lot of cheers, but the cheers couldn't last too long with more games to play. Both the Tide and Tigers have identical records at 13-10, but the Tide (5-7) is one game ahead of the Tigers (4-8) in conference play.

"To be honest, I think they certainly felt good about the win which they should, but the bus ride was pretty quiet," Gottfried said. "Half of them were sleeping. And again, they have felt all along that we can compete every where we go. And that's kind of the way we've been. We've been competing; we just haven't been making enough plays late in the game when we need to. They did that the other day, so, I don't think it was that unique as far as how we played."

Gottfried pointed out that even in Bama's losses, the games have been close.

He explained, "It's not as if we've been going and getting blown out everywhere we go and you just rise up and play completely different than you have. We've been playing pretty well. We just haven't been able to win. So, I think they were excited about it, but that was it."

Along with Killingsworth, the Tigers start Quinnel Brown (6-6, 210, 7.2 ppg) at forward and Kyle Davis (6-10, 235, 7.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg) at center. The guards are Lewis Monroe (6-5, 190, 5.1 ppg) and Nathan Watson (6-3, 200, 8.5 ppg).

The game will tip off at 8 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.


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