Auburn Coming Up Short

FAYETTEVILLE -- Auburn coach Jeff Lebo is having to make up for his team's shortcomings in his Southeastern Conference debut.

"My team is a very unique team," Lebo said. "We don't have any depth. We don't have any size. In fact, I'm probably the only head coach in America that has to get out and practice with our team, because we don't have much depth."

Lebo, an all-ACC point guard at North Carolina and four-year starter from 1986-89, was planning on practicing with his team Thursday as it prepares to play Arkansas at 1 p.m. Saturday at Bud Walton Arena.

"I'll be in practice on the other team, so we can have some type of simulation of what we're going to see against Arkansas," Lebo said. "Even though I'm not as fast, I can chuck them around a little bit occasionally."

The Tigers (9-7, 0-3) start the league's shortest lineup with five guards, none taller than 6-foot-6, and are proving size does matter as Auburn has dropped its first three games in SEC play.

It could matter more than ever against the Razorbacks, a team with eight players taller than 6-6.

"We'll have our work cut out against them with their size," Lebo said. "They've got tremendous size and (Arkansas coach Stan Heath) actually started a different lineup (in a 66-63 overtime loss at LSU on Wednesday) than their last game where they put more size on the court.

"With our small guys, we'll have a hard time trying to match Arkansas' size inside."

Heath said the toughest task for his team will be guarding the perimeter and not letting the smaller Tigers dribble around his inside players.

"They're unorthodox in their style," Heath said. "The way they shoot the ball from (long) range with so many guys out there that are a little bit smaller, but they scrap. It's going to be a challenge for some of our bigger guys to move their feet and play good defense.

"At the same time, we're going to have to try to use some of our size to our advantage if we can."

A bright spot for the Tigers is the emergence of true freshman Toney Douglas, a 6-1 slashing shooter who is making a strong case for SEC Newcomer of the Year honors as well as several other all-freshmen accolades.

For the season, Douglas leads the SEC in scoring (19.8 points per game) and is second (22.7) in league play behind Florida hot-shooting guard Anthony Roberson. Douglas has been the team's leading scorer in 10 games and the last six consecutive, including a 32-point effort in an 84-78 overtime loss against the Gators when his buzzer-beating 3-pointer extended the game.

Florida coach Billy Donovan called Douglas one of the best freshman he's seen in a long time during the post-game press conference.

"He is a special, special player," Donovan said. "He can catch and shoot, but when most guys break the 3-point line or get into 15 or 17 feet, they struggle making shots. He has an incredible knack of shooting floaters, getting up on the glass, getting to the rim ... He is explosive."

Besides Douglas, Auburn has three more players averaging double figures in 6-3 Ian Young (15.8 points), 6-6 Quinnel Brown (13.9) and 6-3 Nathan Watson (10.3). Only two players outside of Auburn's starting five average more than 15 minutes a game.

Despite the height and depth disadvantages, Auburn hasn't given up in several games as they've went to overtime three times, losing twice. The Tigers beat Temple (80-78), Colorado State (79-76) and Middle Tennessee State (79-74) to highlight their nonconference slate.

"When the ball is going into the basket for us on the offensive end, we'll have a chance," Lebo said. "If it doesn't, we don't have any inside game actually this year to speak of so we have our struggles there.

"Our kids have battled hard and found ways to win. We've overcome a lot of obstacles and hurdles, but once we got into league play, we've struggled a little bit making the plays when we need to."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories