Barbee's Tigers Look For Another Win Vs. USC

Tony Barbee said his focus is on Auburn's SEC Tournament opponent, not his team's 14-15 record, as the Tigers head to Atlanta to play the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Auburn, Ala.--Four of the SEC's 14 basketball teams will be in action in the opening round of the league's tournament and Tony Barbee's Tigers are in that group trying to advance to round two.

To make that happen Auburn will need to defeat the South Carolina Gamecocks for a third time this season.

Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. CDT on Wednesday at the Georgia Dome as the 12th seeded Tigers take on 13th seed South Carolina. In the other game that night 11th seed Vanderbilt faces 14th seed Mississippi State.

If Auburn defeats the Gamecocks on Wednesday the Tigers will take on Arkansas in round two on Thursday afternoon. The Tigers won 79-74 on Feb. 5th at South Carolina and took the rematch 83-67 at Auburn Arena on Feb. 26th.

"It's always been a challenge when you have played a team twice and you have beat them twice," Barbee said of drawing the Gamecocks as the opening round opponent. "You know they are going to make some adjustments. How they play--they are very physical, probably the most physical team in the league-- it's always a challenge."

Tony Barbee

The Tigers come into the tournament with a 14-15 overall record and are 6-12 in SEC games. South Carolina is 12-19 overall and 5-13 in the league.

If Auburn manages to get past both South Carolina and Arkansas, waiting in round three will be the Tennessee Volunteers, a team that has come on strong down the stretch and is making a serious run at earning an NCAA Tournament bid.

The Tigers also have No. 1 seed Florida in their half of the bracket, which is clearly more challenging than the other side of the bracket with slumping Kentucky as the top-seeded team and a Georgia team that Auburn has beaten as the next highest seed at No. 3.

"I haven't even looked at the bracket," Barbee said. "All I know is we play South Carolina and we are preparing for them."

In his three seasons as coach of the Tigers his teams have yet to win a game in the SEC Tournament. Last year the Tigers wrapped up a disappointing 9-23 (3-15 SEC) season with a 71-62 loss to Texas A&M at the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

"Nothing that has happened in the last three years has anything to do with what happens in the SEC Tournament this year," Barbee said when asked about his record at the league tournament.

Senior guard Chris Denson leads the Tigers in scoring at 19.2 points per contest and junior guard K.T. Harrell is next at 18.4 points per game. Freshman point guard Tajh Shamsid-Deen is No. 3 in scoring at 9.7 points per contest.

Asked to evaluate his team's regular season that ended with a 69-64 victory on Saturday at Texas A&M, Barbee said, "We have had our moments. We have played well in spots. We haven't played well in spots. Obviously, I think we have given away a couple of games we had a control of."

When asked about the Tigers' lack of consistency, the coach said, "We have got some youth in the lineup and obviously our catalysts, K.T. and Chris, the games they haven't played well in we haven't played well in."

Last spring Athletic Director Jay Jacobs noted that he wanted to see improvement in season four under Barbee after three consecutive losing season, but didn't put any specific numbers on how much improvement. "We will know what getting better is," Jacobs said. "I will know when I see it."

Asked if he believes his team has significantly improved since last season, Barbee said, "I haven't even had time to evaluate it. All I am worried about is the SEC Tournament in Atlanta and our game against South Carolina."

The coach was asked if he felt pressure concerning his job status, Barbee said, "I have never felt pressure in my life--not as a player, not as an assistant coach, not as a head coach."

The Tigers will travel to Atlanta on Tuesday where they will practice at the Georgia Dome in preparation for Wednesday's game that will be carried on SEC TV.


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