Struggling Tigers Looking For Positive Finish

FAYETTEVILLE -- It hasn't been the best of seasons for first-year Auburn coach Jeff Lebo in his maiden voyage in the Southeastern Conference.

Sitting at the bottom of the SEC Western Division standings can't sit too well with Tigers fans, either.

To make matters worse, Auburn lost 94-53 against No. 21 Alabama on Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa. It was the Crimson Tide's most lopsided win against its top rival.

"They could have beaten the Lakers tonight," Lebo told The Associated Press, "and as you can see we're far from the Lakers.

"They were so good tonight. They got a good start in the second half and hit 3s. We got some good looks, but they would come down and hit 3s on one pass."

Perhaps the only way to salvage this season -- unless, of course, the Tigers (12-16 overall, 3-12 in the SEC) can pull off a miracle run in the SEC Tournament -- is finish on a good note at home.

Saturday afternoon, Auburn hopes to finish the regular season with a win against Arkansas (18-10, 6-9) in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum on senior day.

Auburn associate head coach John Cooper broached the subject Thursday morning during an SEC teleconference.

"Well, obviously, we'll have our hands full," Cooper said. "Arkansas is coming off a tough loss (57-55) against Mississippi State on Tuesday night. They have a young, talented team with a lot of good players and good depth.

"They'll be ready."

Cooper, too, hopes the Tigers will be equal to the task despite the fact they were demolished 95-59 on Jan. 22 in Bud Walton Arena.

"Hopefully, we'll send our seniors out with a good game," Cooper said. "Of course, we've had a lot of trouble with depth this season. Because of that, we've struggled in the second half with fatigue this season. That's been a big problem."

So has size.

Auburn doesn't have a player taller than 6-foot-6 and that certainly doesn't help matters.

"We can't rely a lot on three-point shooting," Cooper said. "We have to do some other things in order to get things done.

"I think the second half of the season, we've improved some. I think most teams have improved in the second half of the season, simply because of the fact they all gain experience." Cooper said freshmen Frank Tolbert, a 6-3 guard, and Toney Douglas, a 6-1 guard, represent hope for the future.

Among the best seniors finishing out their career is Quinnel Brown, a 6-6, 210 pounder, who scored 17 and had 8 rebounds against Bama on Wednesday night.

"Fred Tolbert and Toney Douglas have improved a lot," Cooper said. "I think they'll help our program down the line and like all the seniors, we'd like to send Brown out on a positive note."

They certainly want a more positive effort than the one against Alabama, and the first one against Arkansas in the first meeting.

Alabama started a 36-9 run early in the second half to turn a nine-point game into a 36-point lead. From there, the Crimson Tide rolled.

In its latest loss, Auburn shot only 29 percent from the field and lost its fifth straight game.

Auburn will be the SEC Western Division's sixth seed at the league tournament March 10-13 in Atlanta.

Despite the lumps the Tigers have taken this season, Arkansas coach Stan Heath doesn't see Auburn as a pushover.

"I think Jeff does a good job of keeping his team competitive," Heath said. "Their three-point shooting is scary when they are playing at home. I know they'll be ready because it's senior day on Saturday and they want to finish strong. I think it will be a pride game for both teams.

"It'll be tough."

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