Rivalry Rematch: AU Looking to Sweep Series

Coach Tony Barbee's Auburn basketball Tigers will take on Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday hoping for a repeat of their first meeting this season.

Auburn, Ala.--After sweeping their season series vs. South Carolina on Wednesday the Auburn basketball Tigers will try to do it again on Saturday in Tuscaloosa where they will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in a matchup of teams with 5-10 SEC records.

Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. CST for a contest that will be televised on ESPNU. The Tigers bring a 13-13 record into the game while the Tide is 11-17.

In the first Tigers-Tide matchup this season on Jan. 29th at Auburn Arena the Tigers cruised to a 74-55 victory as senior guard Chris Denson scored a career-high 32 points while junior guard K.T. Harrell added 23 points.

Denson goes into Saturday leading the SEC in scoring at 20.4 points per game, but Harrell has been in a shooting slump in recent games although he still ranks seventh in the conference in scoring at 18.4 points per game.

Coach Tony Barbee noted that Tigers need Harrell to get back on track as the team tries to have a strong finish to the regular season. The junior guard hit just 2-8 field goals in Auburn's victory over South Carolina on Wednesday night and in the last five games he has made just 18 of 60 field goal attempts, dropping his overall field goal percentage to 43.9.

Asked about Harrell's recent play, Barbee said, "K.T. is a guy who is hard on himself--he is a perfectionist. It is funny, I?met with him today because we need him to get back to playing well. The last five games he has not played up to his expectations or my expectations. He is a better player than what he has played.

"He is a perfectionist and he lets one missed layup, one missed shot, a turnover here or there affect him for the next 10 possessions,"?the coach added.

K.T. Harrell scored 23 points in Auburn's victory over Alabama in January.

"It is a good thing that he is a perfectionist because it is borne out with how hard he works on own, on his craft, but at the same time you can't let one mistake, one missed something affect the rest of your game.

"I told him just get back to playing with confidence, let's not worry about offense. Let's worry about defense, let's worry about rebounding, let's worry about doing the little things and the offense will take care of itself."

Denson, who has been playing well down the stretch of the SEC season, said he expects a tough test on Saturday because of the rivarly and because it is a road game. "Every team plays different at home, especially Alabama," he said. "They put the pressure on a lot with the fullcourt trapping they do. It is just a hard environment in there."

Asked if winning the SEC scoring title is a personal goal, the senior said that is the case, but noted he wants to get his points without forcing shots he shouldn't take. "Every time I force it I don't have a good game," he said.

Denson noted that although he has been disappointed with his team's season because the Tigers have only won 13 games when he expected more, the guard said that the players are going to do what they can to have a strong finish with three games left before the SEC Tournament.

"We are fighting to the last game, wherever that is," he said. "We are going into every game trying to win it, especially for the young guys like Tajh (Tajh Shamsid-Deen) and Coach. We are doing this all for them and we are going to the SEC Tournament with a chip on our shoulder and, like Coach said, nobody wants to see us in the SEC Tournament how we are on fire right now."

Asked what the keys are to win a rivalry game on the road, Denson said, "Coach talks about it all the time. We can't have a lot of turnovers and we have to do the little things like make free throws and make plays at the end."

Commenting on the rivalry game, Barbee said, "Just like anywhere you play on the road, I have always been an advocate that it doesn't matter where the game is played. Whether it's your homecourt, played in an away arena or in the park, basketball is basketball. You have to play with confidence, you have to play with focus and you have to play with poise no matter where the game is being played."

After Saturday's game the Tigers will have a Wednesday home finale vs. Tennessee and then close the regular season the following Saturday at Texas A&M.

"We want to finish strong," Barbee said. "We have played well in spurts and obviously we played well in the first Alabama game. Obviously, they are completely different. They are playing a different lineup and playing a different style from when we saw them the first game. It's going to be like facing a completely new team that we are playing against."

Trevor Releford, a 6-0 senior point guard, leads Alabama in scoring at 18.9 points per game. The No. 2 scorer, sophomore guard Retin Obasohan, is averaging 9.8 points.

"He is a special player," Barbee said of Releford. "He is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of point guard. He does everything well and he doesn't have weaknesses in his game. He shoots the ball from range, he creates off the dribble. He can score left-handed or right-handed. He is good in transition.

"Obviously, he plays with the poise and confidence of a senior, Barbee added. "He has been good for our league and obviously he has been good for Alabama."

Auburn's coach said the Tide has other good players. "They had some guys who weren't playing their best when we played them the first time that have had some big games. Obviously, (Shannon) Hale coming off the 27 against Ole Miss and (Levi) Randolph had 33 against Missouri, they have some guys that are playing better than they played the first go round against us. At the same time they are playing a different lineup. With the loss of (Nick) Jacobs they are playing a different style as well."


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