Defense Leads Barbee's Tigers Past the Dawgs

Varez Ward, Kenny Gabriel and the defense led the Auburn basketball Tigers to a victory over Georgia.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn (13-9, 3-5) relied on a stifling defensive effort and some clutch play down the stretch by Varez Ward and Kenny Gabriel to outlast Georgia 59-51 Wednesday night at the Auburn Arena for the Tigers' third conference win.

With Auburn's lead cut to two with just 38 seconds left, Ward found Gabriel under the basket, where he knocked down the shot while drawing a foul. His free throw gave the Tigers five point lead.

With his perimeter shots off the mark, Ward aggressively drove the lane most of the night, drawing fouls and giving himself the chance to put points up from the charity stripe. He hit all 12 of his attempts on his way to a 17-point performance.

"That's always been a part of his game, but that was kind of taken away with the injury," said head coach Tony Barbee on Ward attacking the basket. "And now, I don't know if there was some magic to it, but that rest seemed to have given him some pop in his step that he's been missing for awhile."

Gabriel, who finished with 16 points and eight rebounds on the night, has also noticed the renewed bounce in Ward step.

"He's getting his legs back under him," Gabriel said. "He can just get it and go like he used to."

Auburn's defensive performance was the difference in the game, though. The Tigers held the Bulldogs to 25 percent shooting from the field. They also contained their leading scorer, freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored only six points, well below his 14.4 point average.

The defense kept the Tigers in the game in the first half. Auburn started the game off with poor ball security, shot selection and, generally, sloppy play. The Tigers didn't hit their first shot until a Frankie Sullivan three-pointer at the 11-minute mark.

"We got off to a slow start offensively, but it all goes back to our defense," Barbee said. "We continued to guard. Earlier in the season when we only scored two points the first nine minutes of the game, we could have been down 15, 20 to 2, but we continued to guard and once we found it we were able to break the ice kind of on the rim.

After falling behind 7-0, the Tigers went on a 22-3 run for a 22-10 lead with just more than two minutes left in the half.

"We were able to get it going," said the head coach. "And when we get stops like that and we play fast in transition like that, it will lead to some easy buckets, and boy do we got to find a way to get some easy buckets."

Frankie Sullivan chipped in nine points for the Tigers, while Georgia was led by Gerald Robinson's 16 points.

The loss drops Georgia to 10-11 overall and 1-6 in conference.

Comenting on his team's performance, UGA coach Mark Fox said, "We got so frustrated, and we let our frustration affect our offensive play. We just felt like if we continued to play the game like we know how, that we had a chance to win it.

"We put ourselves in a position to win it with a one possession game," the coach said. "Every time we did that we did something to mess that up. You have to give Auburn credit because they got to the foul line in the second half. That was real key for them because I thought we were defending the field goals really well."

The Tigers will look to take their success on the road as they travel to Starkville, Miss., to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs at 3 p.m. CST on Saturday.

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