MUSTAPHA HERON (PHOTO BY JASON CALDWELL)

Auburn And Georgia to Open the SEC Basketball Season

The Auburn basketball team is at home for a Thursday evening contest vs. Georgia in the conference opener for both teams.

Mustapha Heron (above) has started all 12 games for the Tigers this season.

Auburn, Ala.--Hoping to defend their homecourt where they are 6-0 this season, as well as make a good start in SEC basketball play, the Auburn Tigers will take on the Georgia Bulldogs on Thursday evening.

Tipoff at Auburn Arena is set for 6 p.m. CDT (ESPNU TV) where the Tigers will head into contest with a 10-2 record vs. the 8-4 Bulldogs. The game is a sellout, including standing room only tickets.

Coach Bruce Pearl said the Tigers should be ready for Georgia with three practices to prepare for the Bulldogs since returning from Christmas break. The AU staff began game-planning for the SEC opener earlier in the month, the coach pointed out.

“We open up against one of our rivals in Georgia,”? Pearl said.  “It’s an important rivalry for Auburn in many ways. It’s important for us in recruiting because Georgia is such an important area for us. Georgia has been, as long as I have been in the league, they’ve been a really competitive program. Mark Fox has done an outstanding job there.”

Fox, who is in his eighth season at Georgia, has a 134-107 record in Athens and has led the Bulldogs to a school-record three consecutive 20-win seasons.

“They are picked fifth or sixth,” Pearl said of the expectations for UGA in the SEC race. “They are picked to be a postseason team. They have got two first-team all-conference players in (J.J.) Frazier and (Yante) Maten. I reminded my guys we didn’t have anybody on the first team or the second team, or honorable mention or anything.

“We are picked 11th, they are picked fifth, and so we have got a lot to prove,” Pearl added. “As I?have said, we have got a lot of work to do. We have to play better than we did in December in order to win in conference play against the upper half of our league so we are still very much a work in progress.”?

Maten, a 6-8, 240 junior, is averaging 19.8 points per game and 8.3 rebounds. He is second in the SEC in both scoring and rebounding.

Dean Legge/Dawg Post

Yante Maten ranks third in the SEC in field goal percentage.

Frazier, a 5-10, 155 senior guard, averages 15.1 points, 4.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds.

In the last matchup between the Tigers and Bulldogs, Frazier led a second half comeback from a 16-point halftime deficit by scoring 29 points. However, Auburn held on for an 84-81 win  at Auburn Arena.

UGA cut the lead to one point with six seconds left, but Bryce Brown hit two free throws to help the Tigers hold on for a win. Georgia defeated Auburn 66-55 in their first matchup last season.

In addition to Frazier and Maten, the Bulldogs are expected to start 6-4 freshman Jordan Harris (5.2 points, 1.0 rebound), 6-4 junior Juwan Parker (8.0 points, 5.8 rebounds) and 6-8 sophomore Derek Ogbeide (7.8 points, 6.6) rebounds, who played with Auburn freshman Jared Harper at Pebblebrook High in Mableton, Ga.

Harper, a point guard, is averaging 12.8 points and 3.1 assists and is the current SEC Freshman of the Week after scoring 43 points in wins over Oklahoma and UConn that helped Auburn extend its winning streak to four games.

Auburn is led in scoring by freshman guard Mustapha Heron, who is averaging 15.9 points and 6.8 rebounds. Danjel Purifoy, a 6-7 redshirt freshman forward, is averaging 14.7 points and 6.2 rebounds.

AUSTIN WILEY (PHOTO BY JASON CALDWELL)

Austin Wiley has played three games since joining the team and has started the previous two.

The Tigers are expected to go again with four freshmen in the starting lineup for a third straight game with 6-11, 255 Austin Wiley (7.3 points, 3.0 rebounds) to open the game along with Harper, Purifoy and Heron. Junior T.J. Lang (4.8 points and 2.2 rebounds) is expected to open the game at guard.

Pearl pointed out that he likes that his Tigers have pulled out several games when they either didn’t shoot well or were out-rebounded by significant margins. “To find a way is what it is all about--to scratch and to claw to find a way win,” he said.

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