Doubleheader Opens Basketball Season

Tony Barbee makes his regular season debut at Auburn on Friday night, but it's ladies first as Nell Fortner's Tigers open the doubleheader at the new Auburn Arena.

Auburn, Ala.--A doubleheader is scheduled for Friday for the first regular season games at the new Auburn Arena with the women's basketball team taking on Mercer at 5 p.m. and the men playing UNC-Asheville at 8 p.m.

Friday's game will be the first this season for the women's team, which did not play an exhibition game. The men's squad defeated West Alabama in an exhibition last week and fell to Columbus State University on Monday night.

The Tigers vs. UNC-Asheville matchup will be the first regular season game for Tony Barbee as head coach of the Tigers. He was 4-0 in openers during his time at UTEP.

"The guys have been working hard, and they have been preparing hard," Barbee said. "It will be interesting to see the experience that UNC-Asheville has because they only lost only one player out of their top eight in their rotation.

"They come back with a lot of experience, and they are going to come in here ready to play, but so are we," Barbee said. "I am looking forward to seeing a full arena, and everybody going crazy. I know it is going to be an exciting night."

Auburn officials are selling standing room only seats for the game.

The visiting Bulldogs are led by 6-1 junior guards J.P. Primm (12.5 points, 5.5 assists) and Matt Dickey (11.5 points, 3.7 assists) along with 6-3 junior forward Chris Stephenson (9.6 points and 5.1 rebounds).

Auburn leads the series vs. the Bulldogs 2-0. In the last meeting in 2001 the Tigers cruised to an 83-38 victory over the team from the Big South Conference, which is forecast in one poll to finish second in that league this year.

The Tigers are predicted to finish last in the SEC West. After defeating West Alabama 79-66 in an exhibition game, the Tigers lost 54-52 to Columbus State.

Auburn is expected to start sophomores Earnest Ross and Josh Wallace at guard, sophomore Rob Chubb at center, junior Kenny Gabriel at forward and freshman Allen Payne at the other forward spot.

Gabriel led the Tigers in the exhibition games averaging 11.5 points and 13.5 rebounds. Ross averaged 13 points and five rebounds. Chubb averaged eight points and 8.5 rebounds and Wallace averaged 8.5 points and 6.5 assists.

Kenny Gabriel goes strong to the hoop vs. Columbus State on Monday night.

For the women's team preseason All-SEC senior guard Alli Smalley noted that she is eager to get the season started. "I am really excited for this year's team," she said. "We have a lot of potential and we are still young with a lot of freshmen and sophomores. The look of this team is different from last year's that worked a lot in the half court and this year we are still getting used to everything and get in the flow, but we are pushing the ball more. It should be fast-paced and run-and-gun. That is what we are looking at to start off Friday."

The Tigers played a very fast-paced style as they won the SEC Championship in 2008-2009, but last year's rebuilding team was hit hard by injuries and had to play at a slow pace.

"It is right along the same lines and pretty much the same offense that we had a few years ago," Smalley said about this year's team. "We are still trying to get in the flow and still have a lot of work to do with it. In practice we are pushing it and pushing it just like we did two years ago."

Alli Smalley has three seasons of starting experience for the Tigers.

The Tigers slumped to a 15-16 season last year. They will try to get the season off to a winning start vs. a Mercer team that was 14-16 last season. The Bears featured a new head coach, Susie Gardner.

Auburn women's head coach Nell Fortner said her team will be counting on freshmen to bolster the depth and add more quickness and depth to the roster. Smalley agrees and said, "We have a good group of freshmen. They are just a solid group of basketball players. They work so hard and they keep going hard in conditioning.

"They just pick up things so fast, they are always listening and ready to learn," the senior added. "I am really excited to get out on the court and play with them, see what they can do."

Fortner said the Tigers still have plenty of work to do in getting the newcomers ready to become major contributors. "We have worked hard on it and we are not there yet," she said. "We've got four healthy freshmen right now that we are trying to bring up to speed, but it is going to take a while because that pace can be brutal."

Freshman guard Camille Glymph is sidelined by a hip injury, but the Tigers are expecting early help from center Peyton Davis, guard Courtney Strain and forwards Tyrese Tanner and Jassany Williams.

"On defense we have worked hard on pressure, with a lot more pressing and a lot more trapping, being more versatile on that end of the floor knowing that it is going to take more time for the offense to meet that," Fortner said. "It has been fun working on it and I am looking forward to getting back to that style of play. "

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