Tigers Looking for Triumph in the Tropics

The Auburn basketball team hopes to earn its eight win of the season as the Tigers face the Rainbow Warriors.

Looking for a better result than the last time they ventured far from home, Tony Barbee's Tigers will play the first of three basketball games in Hawaii on Thursday night (8 p.m. Hawaiian Standard time, midnight Central) vs. the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii.

Auburn takes a 7-1 record into the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, but Barbee has not been pleased with his team's performance in recent outings, including a 76-69 victory on Monday night vs. Florida A&M.

"We are not going to out-talent many teams we play, and definitely not any of the teams in Hawaii, so we better make them match our intensity," Barbee said. "If we do that we have got enough on the floor to hold our own with anybody, but if we go out there like we are better than somebody we are going get our butts beat."

The Tigers' only loss was a lopsided one. They lost 81-59 in New Jersey to Seton Hall on December 2nd.

Tony Barbee is in his second season with the Tigers.

"Hawaii will be tough with them being at home with a very large crowd," Barbee said of the 5-4 Rainbow Warriors, who are hosts for the eight-team tournament. "They have quality personnel on their team and play well together.

"Zane Johnson is their leading scorer," the coach said. "He is six-foot-six, plays the two guard for them, is a really good three-point shooter and can post you up with mismatches. We are really going to have to concentrate on him to slow him down."

A preseason All-Western Athletic Conference team selection, the senior guard is averaging a team-leading 14.1 points per game.

"Vander Joaquim is their center at six-foot-10, who is very mobile," Barbee said. "He can take you inside and outside, and runs the floor very well. He is averaging almost a double-double. We are going to have our hands full with him as well."

Joaquim is averaging 11.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Also scoring in double figures for the University of Hawaii is 5-10 freshman guard Shaquille Stokes, who is scoring 12.3 points and dishing out 3.4 assists per contest.

Hawaii is on a three-game winning streak with victories over UC Davis (74-61), Hawaii-Hilo (79-66) and North Carolina A&T (65-57). The Tigers vs. Rainbow Warriors matchup will be televised on ESPNU.

Auburn features all five starters scoring in double figures led by Frankie Sullivan's 13.1 points per game. Kenny Gabriel leads the Tigers in rebounding with 8.9 per game and is averaging 10.9 points and 3.0 blocks.

The Tigers will play three games in Hawaii. The second round matchup will be on Friday against the winner or loser of a matchup featuring 14th-ranked Xavier, which is 8-1, vs. 5-5 Long Beach State.

The finals are scheduled for Christmas day. The other first round games feature 2-5 UTEP vs. 6-4 Clemson and 2-5 Southern Illinois vs. 7-1 Kansas State.

Senior forward Kenny Gabriel launches a shot for the Tigers.

Gabriel said beginning with the game vs. Hawaii his team's schedule toughens. "We are starting to get into the grind of the season playing good team night after night so it is going to test us and get us ready for the conference season."

Barbee said the tournament will be a test for his team with the Tigers playing three games with little preparation time in between. "Guys say they want to play in the NBA so here it is," Barbee stated. "It is also against some very good competition."

The coach said the way his team played in its last outing won't be good enough to get a win vs. Hawaii. Barbee said his Tigers have played down to the level of their competition.

"Unfortunately, when you do that you create bad habits," Barbee said. "Even when you think you are going to raise your level for a so-called better opponent you can't sustain because you aren't used to doing it all the time, and that is the point I?am trying to get across to these guys, and they aren't getting it."

Auburn and Hawaii have played just one time in basketball with the Tigers winning 84-57 in the finals of the United Airlines Tip-off Classic in Honolulu on Nov. 29, 1998. That Auburn team finished the season with a 29-4 record that included an SEC Championship.

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