Barbee Blames Himself As Miners Outscore AU

Auburn's trip to Hawaii ended with a disappointing loss to the hot-shooting UTEP Miners.

Honolulu--Despite a game-high 24 points from senior forward Kenny Gabriel and a good performance by sophomore guard Varez Ward, Auburn dropped an 83-76 basketball decision to UTEP in the third place game at the Diamond Head Classic on Christmas Day.

The Tigers finished 1-2 on their Hawaii trip and fell to 8-3. The Miners improved to 6-6 with the victory.

Coach Tony Barbee said a poor defensive performance was the downfall of his team vs. the Miners.

"It is just disappointing at the end of the day that defensively we are this bad," Barbee said, noting the Miners made 53.1 percent of their field goals, including 65 percent of their shots in the second half.

Coming into the game the Miners were only averaging 63 points per game.

"I am disappointed in my team," Barbee said. "I have got to do a better job with my guys.

"All we talk about, and all we work on for 80 percent of our practices, is defense and toughness and discipline on that end of the floor. We are the most undisciplined defensive team I have ever coached. Ever. And it bothers me, and that is on me. I have to do a better job."

The coach said he was particularly disappointed in the play of his starting junior center. "In 30 minutes (28 actually) Rob Chubb goes for zero points and three rebounds...I have got to find somebody else to play because he didn't come here to win a tournament. He came here to boogie board and surf, which is disappointing.

"You look at the lack of production in these last two games, it is so disappointing," Barbee said. "He is a key to what we are doing and he absolutely let our team down."

Ward, the point guard who is trying to get back to full speed from a serious leg injury, scored 18 points and added six assists. He had three turnovers and three rebounds in 32 minutes of court time.

"He is still struggling physically, but for some reason today he had some pop and energy in his legs he hasn't had," Barbee said of Ward. "If we can get him know it disappoints me, but it disappoints him even more that he is not close to 100 percent. He might not be even close to 70 percent. He is dragging himself around. It is obvious. Tonight he played a little bit better because he felt a little bit better."

Another player trying to bounce back from an injury is guard Noel Johnson, who did not score in his second appearance for the Tigers. Johnson played 18 minutes as a reserve and was 0-6 from the field.

"He has got a lot of rust," Barbee said. "We are going to need him down the stretch. He has still got to get healthy, too. He did some good things defensively and rebounded the ball pretty good in the minutes he had.

Noel Johnson tries to shoot in traffic vs. the Miners.

"One of the things he is going to be bringing to our team we are counting on is some offense," Barbee added. "When he hurt his shooting wrist he still doesn't have the strength in his wrist."

The Miners led much of the game and were up 37-31 at halftime thanks to making 4-6 threes while Auburn made 2-9 threes in the opening period.

The Tigers had opportunities in the second half as they made a run led by Gabriel to take a 50-45 lead with 12:03 left, but the Tigers went cold from the field as UTEP put together an 11-2 run of its own to take a 56-52 edge.

Auburn closed the gap to 60-59 on a three-pointer by Chris Denson with 5:25 left, but that was as close as the Tigers would get the rest of contest.

Barbee's Tigers shot 45.5 percent from the field and hit 7-21 threes plus 19-21 free throws. Barbee said the reason the Tigers lost the game wasn't a lack of production offensively. "We scored enough points to win this game," he said.

Gabriel also led the Tigers in rebounds with eight. He hit 10-14 field goals, was 3-4 on threes, 1-1 at the foul line and contributed four assists, two blocks and two steals in 37 minutes of playing time.

Josh Langford scored 16 points and added three rebounds for the Tigers as he hit 6-10 field goals. Auburn's next leading scorer, Denson, added nine.

John Bohannon led the Miners with a career-high 20 points and led all rebounders with nine. Michael Perez, who was 4-6 on threes, added 18 points.

Starting Lineup: The Tigers went with two guards, two forwards and a center as Frankie Sullivan, Varez Ward, Kenny Gabriel, Josh Langford and Rob Chubb opened the contest for the Tigers.

Feeling Rough: Despite being sick, Sullivan played 31 minutes and scored seven points before fouling out with two rebounds, two turnovers and one assist.

Three Point Barrage: The key statistic in the game was UTEP's three-point shooting. The Miners hit 9-13 treys to overcome being out-rebounded 33-25.

Turnovers: The Tigers didn't help their cause with ball-handling issues. They finished with 15 turnovers, four more than UTEP.

Tigers Vs. Miners: UTEP improved its all-time record to 3-0 vs. Auburn. The last meeting prior to Sunday was an 87-82 game on Dec. 29th, 1986 in the Sun Bowl Classic in El Paso, Tex.

Road Trip: Auburn finished 1-2 in Hawaii. The Tigers opened the tournament with a 65-62 victory over the University of Hawaii in the first round before losing to Long Beach State 64-43 in their second game.

Up Next: The Tigers return to the Auburn Arena for their next game, a 6 p.m. CST contest on Friday vs. Georgia Southern.

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