On Saturday, in the regular season finale vs. LSU in Baton Rouge, the Tigers can win their fourth conference game of the season and finish fifth in the SEC West, one spot of ahead of the preseason forecast for the Tigers, who were picked to finish last in the division.
Auburn and LSU enter the 6 p.m. CST tipoff at the Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge with identical 3-12 SEC records and similar overall marks with Auburn at 10-19 and LSU featuring an 11-19 record. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Net.
Barbee's Tigers head into the game following an exciting 76-73 victory over Ole Miss on Wednesday night as Auburn rallied from a slow start for the victory against a team that had walloped the Tigers 90-59 in February.
Auburn's coach says he sees the win over the Rebels as a major positive for his team as the Tigers prepare for next week's SEC Basketball Tournament in Atlanta, especially coming back from 20 points down to edge Ole Miss.
"We didn't play well against Ole Miss the first time we played them," Barbee points out. "For us to come back and play well and get the victory and now go on the road and try to get another victory if we can play well, then going into the tournament will be great."
Barbee notes that his team has improved so much it is playing like than the squad that opened the regular season with a home loss to UNC-Asheville or even the team that lost to LSU in the conference opener two months earlier.
"I appreciate the guys," Barbee says. "They have given me everything they have. They have given this university everything they have.
"The wins and losses can beat you down as a player," the coach adds. "These guys have not let it. They could have very easily folded up tent, but it speaks to their character. It also speaks to the character of this staff that we kept driving them and pushing them to bigger and better things, and that is why you have seen this team get better over the course of the season."
Junior forward Kenny Gabriel agrees with his head coach. "We have grown a lot," he says. "You can tell on the defensive side and the offensive side."
Freshman guard Chris Denson, who did not score in the first LSU game, scores two of his 11 points vs. Ole Miss on Wednesday night.
To earn another SEC victory the Tigers will have to defeat a team that won 62-55 in Auburn on January 8th in the conference opener for Barbee's team.
In that matchup Coach Trent Johnson's LSU team held Auburn to just six first half points while scoring 32 before allowing the home team to get back into the game in the second half as Auburn made an 18-0 run. However, Auburn ended up not shooting well enough to win as AU made just 31.6 percent of its field goals compared to 42.9 percent shooting for the visitors.
Earnest Ross led all scorers in the first LSU matchup with 21 points while Gabriel, who scored a career-high 24 on Wednesday night vs. Ole Miss, chipped in with 17 points in the first LSU game. Gabriel has now bumped his scoring average into double figures at 10.2 points per game, second on the team to Ross, who is averaging 13.3 per contest plus a team-leading 6.6 rebounds.
The winner of Saturday evening's game in Baton Rouge will be the fifth seed for the SEC Tournament that starts on Thursday at the Georgia Dome. The loser will be the sixth seed from the West.
Coach Tony Barbee
"Our guys are excited and ready to go," Barbee says of Saturday's game in Baton Rouge. "LSU is a talented team. They are young. Their point guard, Andre Stringer, is an exceptional talent. Ralston Turner is an outstanding player along with Malcolm White and his inside presence along with Green and Aaron Dotson."
Ralston Turner, a 6-6, 193 freshman guard from Muscle Shoals, Ala., High who was not offered a scholarship by former AU coach Jeff Lebo, leads LSU in scoring at 13.1 points per game. He has averaged 16.6 points in his last five games.
"He is playing at a high level," Barbee says of Turner. "He is really shooting the ball well, and he has NBA range on his shot. The one thing that he has really developed is his ability to put the ball on the floor, get to the basket and get to the free throw line."
Turner scored 18 points on Wednesday night as LSU lost 73-53 at Georgia. The Bayou Bengals jumped out to a 13-4 lead in that game, but the host Bulldogs took control of the contest in the second half.
Stringer, a 5-9 freshman guard, is averaging 11.3 points and 2.7 assists for LSU. White, a 6-9, 225 junior forward, is averaging 7.9 points and 5.2 rebounds.
Storm Warren, a 6-7, 230 junior forward, is scoring 7.3 points per game and pulling in 5.7 rebounds. Rounding out the starting lineup is Derenbecker, a 6-7, 185 freshman guard who is averaging 6.5 points per game.