The Auburn women, who are 1-1, get the evening started with a 4:45 p.m. contest in their home opener vs. Stetson.
Western Kentucky, the defending Sun Belt Conference champion, posted a 24-9 record last year and the Hilltoppers were 12-2 in their conference. One of the non-conference victories was an 89-70 drubbing of the Tigers as WKU blitzed Auburn with three-point shooting in the second half to turn a close game into an easy win.
The Auburn men come into this year's contest with a solid opening night victory last Monday over an up-tempo, full-court pressure, quick College of Charleston team. In game two the opposition's style of play is expected to be slower and more power oriented. Friday's game is opening night for the Hilltoppers.
Auburn coach Cliff Ellis says he is expecting a tough test from Western Kentucky. "This could be as physical a game as we play," he says. "Their team likes to be physical and knock you around." The veteran coach adds this should be a payback game for his players who lost by 19 last year to the Hilltoppers
Helping WKU be physical is a whopper-sized center, 6-11, 350-pound Nigel Dixon, who sat out last year as a transfer from Florida State. The junior averaged 8.1 points and 6.4 rebounds two seasons ago for the Seminoles.
Todar Pandov, a 6-9, 230-pounder, is a talented forward, Ellis says. The senior from Bulgaria averaged 12 points and five rebounds while hitting 62 percent of his shots last season.
Auburn forward Brandon Robinson stuffs vs. EA Sports in Auburn's first exhibition game of the season.
Ellis says he is impressed with six-foot-four sophomore guard Anthony Winchester, a solid three-point shooter, who averaged 5.9 points per game last year. Danny Rumph, a 6-2 sophomore, is part of a three-guard starting lineup. He averaged 2.1 points per game last year. Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year Mike Wells, a 6-3, 190 senior, is the other projected starter. He averaged 8.9 points and 3.4 rebounds last season.
WKU lost two key figures from last year's team. Coach Dennis Felton left for a job at the University of Georgia and his best player from last year, guard Patrick Sparks, moved across the state to Lexington to play for the University of Kentucky Wildcats.
Auburn's Marco Killingsworth, who remembers last year's game at Gaylord Arena vs. the Hilltoppers, says Western Kentucky will offer a serious test. "This a game we are going to have to play hard in to win," the junior forward says.
Killingsworth notes that his team is still adjusting to the loss of injured point guard Lewis Monroe, who is out of action until mid-December at the earliest. However, Killingsworth says that he is seeing signs of progress with newcomer Ian Young and senior Chris Lollar sharing the point guard duties.
"We are gelling more and more," says the junior forward, who scored 15 points in the opener. In that 66-62 victory over College of Charleston, fellow junior forward Brandon Robinson was the leading scorer with 19 points and the leading rebounder with 10.
"Brandon has got a lot better," Killingsworth says. "He is playing hard and he is playing well right now."
Friday night's game will be followed by a Sunday afternoon contest as Auburn takes on Maryland Eastern Shore out of the MEAC.
The Auburn women struggled in their opener last Friday in Boulder, Colorado in the WBCA Classic. Ñotre Dame outscored Auburn 77-64, but the Tigers played much better in the consolation game in pounding Old Dominion 84-49.
AU coach Joe Ciampi said that heading for the mountains last week was a good idea despite just going 1-1 on the road trip. "I feel that the opportunity to play Old Dominion and Notre Dame in the WBCA Classic was a positive experience," Ciampi says. "We felt that, defensively, we played to our ability in the Old Dominion game and played a great game in terms of team defense and taking care of our passing lanes and rebounding. Against Notre Dame, our breakdowns came with some careless fouls.
"Overall, we learned in the first game and carried those lessons over into the second game and had a very successful weekend," Ciampi adds. "Any time you can play the caliber of teams that we played and not be afraid to commit for 40 minutes, you have to be proud. We know who we are as a team right now and we will be better for it in the rest of the season."
Junior Natasha Brackett is leading the Tigers in scoring at 16.5 points per game. Backup center Marita Payne has 12 blocked shots in just two games.