Tigers Look to Take Care of Business vs. Bama

The Auburn men's basketball team returns home to face in-state arch-rival Alabama live on ESPNU Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Auburn, Ala.-- While rivalry games don't get more heated than a matchup between Auburn and Alabama, head coach Tony Barbee knows Tuesday's game between the two arch-rivals is just one more opportunity to take care of business at home.

"In the course of a season, it's no bigger than any other game," Barbee said. "It's the next game on our home floor, and we had a goal this year not to lose any games on our home floor. We've only lost one, and we'd like to keep it at one."

The Tigers (13-10, 3-6) enter the game with a 12–1 record this season at Auburn Arena, the only blemish being a 68-53 loss to the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats.

The fierceness of the rivalry and how much it means to the team, program, fans and former players is not lost on Barbee however.

"It doesn't matter the coach," said Barbee. "It doesn't matter the personnel on the floor. It doesn't matter if one team's ranked number one in the country and one team is the worst in the land. It does not matter. These games like this are always played at a high level regardless of who the personnel is."

As someone who grew up in Montgomery, Sophomore guard Varez Ward knows all too well how special the Auburn/Alabama rivalry is.

"I grew up watching this rivalry a lot back when Chris Porter was here," Ward said. "This rivalry's big and I'm glad to be a part of it finally."

The Tigers will face an Alabama team that will be without one of its top scorers, junior forward Tony Mitchell, who has been suspended indefinitely due to undisclosed reasons. Mitchell averaged 13.1 points and seven rebounds a game for the Tide coming off the bench.

"They're going to miss a lot with him not on the floor, but in the scheme of things when you talk about this type of rivalry, it doesn't matter who's on the floor," Barbee said.

The Tide (15-7, 4-4) will look for senior forward JaMychal Green and sophomore guard Trevor Releford to pick up the slack with Mitchell out. Green is averaging a team-high 13.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, with Releford adding 12.3 points a game on his own.

Auburn will once again count on Kenny Gabriel, Frankie Sullivan and Varez Ward to pace the Tigers offensively. The trio combined to score 62 of the 88 points the Tigers scored in Saturday's setback on the road to Mississippi State.

"I have been very impressed watching their team coming off of a tough loss at Mississippi State for them this past weekend," said Alabama head coach Anthony Grant. "Kenny Gabriel, to me, has done a great job with them. He leads them in just about every offensive category, leads them in rebounding, scoring. Frankie Sullivan and Varez Ward, I thought their performance of late has been tremendous.

"It'll be a tough game, obviously, and then to go on the road and play our in-state rival certainly will be a challenge to try to come out with a win."

The Tigers could get a boost from the return of sophomore guard Josh Langford, who has been held out since suffering a concussion against Arkansas on Jan. 25. Barbee said it's possible, but they're still not sure if he'll play or how much he's able to do on the court.

"It's a possibility that he could be back," said Barbee after Monday's practice. "He didn't practice today, but he was cleared from the symptoms he was having."

Alabama leads the overall series 87-56, but has dropped six of the last 10 to the Tigers. Auburn holds a 26-25 lead on its home court, although they dropped last year's matchup at the Auburn Arena 68-58 to the Tide.

The game is set to tip off at 8 p.m. CST and will be televised nationally on ESPNU.


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