Ward Gives Tigers Offensive "Pop"

Sophomore Varez Ward has sparked the Tigers' offensive resurgence after returning from a thigh injury sustained in the Arkansas game.

Auburn, Ala.-- Although the Tigers didn't get their first SEC road win against Mississippi State on Saturday, they did find something worth writing home about—offense.

Auburn put together its best offensive performance of the season against the Bulldogs, scoring 89 points while shooting nearly 46 percent from the floor, well above the Tigers' average of 58.6 points and 37 percent shooting in SEC games.

One catalyst for Auburn finding its offensive pulse is sophomore Varez Ward, who has had a resurgence in scoring the last three games since returning from a thigh injury sustained Jan. 25 on the road against Arkansas.

"All year long, we've been counting on him to bring us some offensive pop," said head coach Tony Barbee. "And it's not only his resurgence, but it's been our kind of resurgence at the offensive end of the floor."

Barbee said that for some reason Ward's short rest has given the sophomore guard a new-found energy in his legs that he has been missing, which has allowed him to be more aggressive when the Tigers are on offense.

"He's a guy that can make shots and keep you honest," Barbee noted. "But he's always been a guy that can get by you, get in the paint and cause havoc and get to the foul line—that's what he's really been doing here lately—getting in the paint and getting to that foul line and getting other guys shots.

"He's a big reason why we have had this offensive outburst because he's been able to be more aggressive in getting in the paint," added the head coach. "And now, you've got somebody at that point guard position who teams have to account for offensively."

Since recovering from his thigh injury, Ward has scored 53 points in three games (17.7 percent average), including a season-high 24-point outburst against Mississippi State on Saturday where he was 7-of-14 from the floor and 9-of-12 from the foul line.

Auburn teammate Kenny Gabriel, who had 22 points and 11 boards against Mississippi State, has noticed the new-found spring in Ward's step as well.

"He's getting his legs back under him," said Gabriel after Auburn's home win against Georgia last week. "He can just get it and go like he used to."

Ward said the short rest he got has done wonders for his game.

"Honestly, this is the best I've felt all year going into this game," said Ward after the Georgia game last week. "Now, I'm able to show my real game attacking the basket when my shot's not falling."

Ward will try to continue his hot streak on offense when the Tigers host Alabama Tuesday at 8 p.m. CST. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

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