The Tigers look to keep their record perfect on the season and extend their winning streak to seven vs. a Grizzlies' team that was the preseason pick to win the Big Sky Conference.
Montana is coached by Pat Kennedy, who was the head coach at Florida State from 1986-1997. Kennedy and Auburn's Cliff Ellis know each other well.
The Grizzlies are off to a 3-3 start that included three straight wins over Montana Tech (85-40), Southeast Missouri State (61-50) and St. Mary's (75-68) after dropping their season opener to Wisconsin-Milwaukee (95-83). Following the 3-1 start Montana lost its last two games against Cal State Northridge (72-63) and the University of San Francisco (72-71).
"They are going to be well coached," Ellis says. "Pat Kennedy is a guy that I have known for a long time through our times in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He has certainly had a great career. He got his start for Jim Valvano, who was a close friend to both of us."
The Grizzlies have three returning starters, but only one is currently in the starting lineup. That player is redshirt sophomore guard Kevin Criswell, the Big Sky Conference's 2002-2003 Freshman of the Year, who is currently second on the team in scoring at 12.7 points per game.
At the point for Montana will be senior Derrick Mansell, who saw action in 20 games last season and is averaging 6.7 points and 4.2 assists per game.
Kamarr Davis, one of two junior college transfer starters for Kennedy's Grizzlies, is leading the team in scoring from his forward position with 14.2 points per game and he averages 6.5 rebounds.
Sophomore center John Seyfert, who transferred from Saint Louis University, was forced to sit out last season. He is leading the team in rebounds with 7.8 per game and adds 6.7 points while hitting 58 percent of his field goals.
Brent Cummings was forced to take a medical redshirt last season due to a back injury. However, the senior forward is back in the starting lineup and averaging 9.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
Montana's sixth man is junior point guard Roy Booker, who averages 9.7 points per game. Booker is also a junior college transfer, who gives the Grizzlies some added experience at the point.
"They have got three juco players that they have added to their roster in this first recruiting year that bring a lot of skill and athleticism to an experienced team, and they are another one of those dangerous opponents," Ellis says.
Brandon Robinson is off to a strong start this season for the Tigers.
With all of the additions to their lineup, Montana is expected to improve upon its 2002-2003 13-17 record and third place finish in the Big Sky Conference. And despite their losing record the Grizzlies proved they could play with a highly regarded opponent, on the road none the less, by beating Stanford 70-68 at Maples Pavilion last season.
Heading into Wednesday's contest the Grizzlies are averaging 73 points per game and are shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 36.9 percent from three-point land. They are giving up 66 points per game and are out-rebounding opponents 38 to 32.
Ellis contends that Wednesday's game will be a tough contest as usual. "We have got to come out and play well because they are going to be like every other opponent we have seen--they are going to come in here to win."
The Tigers continue to rely on strong play from their frontcourt. All three Auburn big men who see regular action are scoring in double figures.
Marco Killingsworth leads the Tigers with 15.5 points per game while shooting 66 percent from the field and grabbing 6.2 rebounds. Brandon Robinson is connecting on 61 percent of his shots, scoring 13.7 points, getting 6.3 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game. Also Kyle Davis, who has seen more reserve duty this season, is scoring 10.7 points per game while adding 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.
Davis says that he has no problems at all coming off of the bench for the Tigers. "Yeah, I am satisfied with my role, anyway that I can help my team out is good for me whether I am in the starting lineup or coming off of the bench," the senior explains. "And the coaches always tell us that no matter whenever you get into the game you just go in there and do the best that you can. People may ask me, ‘It doesn't frustrate you that you are coming off of the bench?' No, it doesn't. Because when I get in, I get in and do all that I can to help my team."
One reason the Tigers have been so strong in the frontcourt has been the backcourt's ability to knock down the outside shot. Auburn is shooting 52.7 percent from the field and a very strong 40 percent from three-point range. Those numbers have led to solid scoring production with the Tigers averaging 82.3 points per game.
Davis says that the outside shooting has been a major key in Auburn's overall team development this season. "That helps us out a lot, especially in the post," Davis says. "When we get down in the post we don't get pinched as much, you don't get double teamed as much and if we do we just kick back out if they are open to take the three and if not they'll pass back in and we score. So it helps out the inside game a lot and we just play inside-out basketball."
Young, a point guard and shooting guard, is third on the team in scoring with 11.5 points per game. The junior has also been deadly from behind the three-point line, hitting 54.2 percent for the season and 59 percent in the last five games.
LeMelle, a 6-5 guard/forward, is averaging 8.2 points, 2.8 assists and is also hitting 54.4 percent of his threes.
Brown, a 6-6 forward, is putting up 8.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and can also stroke the treys as he is hitting 40 percent of those shots.
Davis says that all of the returning players could see that the three newcomers had the potential to help the Tigers win and that was apparent early in the practice schedule. "At first it was kind of like they were just trying to get into the identity, and trying to get used to playing with us," the senior center notes. "And, once they got used to playing with us their game just came up and they played hard. They just kept playing hard against us because they knew they they were going to have to make a name for themselves. We saw that each one of them could shoot the three and that is one of the big things that they brought to the table."
Ronny LeMelle is averaging 8.2 points per game for the Tigers.
Ellis says he is looking forward to adding even more depth to the backcourt when Lewis Monroe is able to return from a fractured bone in his foot to lead the Tigers at the point guard position, which will likely happen in early January. "He goes to Birmingham (Tuesday) and we will find out more. They are supposedly taking the cast off and taking another picture of it. I think we'll find out more (Tuesday) night."
When Monroe returns to game action, Ellis says that Young will spend most of his time at the two-guard position, however, he will continue to play the point. The coach says he is not surprised that Young has been effective scoring from the point guard position. "A shooter is a shooter," Ellis says.
Ellis, who admits he doesn't like to mess with team chemistry during a winning streak, says he is a little concerned about making changes to the lineup when Monroe returns and freshman center Dwayne Curtis join the mix in the near future. Curtis, a 6-9, 290-pounder who is a late academic qualifier, can begin to practice on Dec. 17th and his first game in which he will eligible to play is Dec. 20th at UNLV. Despite his concerns, the coach says he is looking forward to having all of his players available. "In the end I think we become a stronger team," he says.
Wednesday game is Toys for Tots night at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. Any fan bringing a new unwrapped toy will receive free admission. The toys will be distributed to needy children in the Auburn-Opelika area. There is no television coverage for the game.