Tigers Hope To End Mini-Slump Vs. Visiting USM

Auburn, Ala.--Coach Cliff Ellis is hoping that his Tigers come back a changed basketball team from Auburn's second layoff of the 2003-2004 season.

That is exactly what happened after the first layoff, but that change did not do the Tigers any good. After taking a break for fall semester exams, what had been a sizzling hot basketball team fell on its face with back to back losses to UNLV and Georgia State to drop to 7-2 this season.

The Tigers will be back on the court Tuesday after an eight-day layoff with a 7 p.m. tipoff vs. 6-3 Southern Mississippi at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. Part of that time was spent on a Christmas break, but the Tigers have been back in Auburn since the day after Christmas for heavy duty practices to get the team back on a winning track.

"We have had some very physical practices, and I think the key for our team is to take the physical part of the game to our opponent," says Auburn coach Cliff Ellis. "That has been the emphasis in practice."

After Tuesday's game, the Tigers will play the University of New Orleans on Friday night in the final non-conference game on the schedule. The Tigers open SEC play on Jan. 7 at Vanderbilt.

Auburn has a 12-1 all-time record vs. Southern Miss, including a 92-46 victory last December. The Tigers are 8-0 vs. the Golden Eagles in games played in Auburn have won the last 10 meetings vs. USM.

Commenting on the matchup with Golden Eagles, Ellis says, "When we play this game, both teams are trying to get ready for conference play. (USM Coach) James Green and I have been doing this for several years because we both believe the physical part of this game helps both teams.

"Southern Miss is very experienced with seven of their top ten players having spent quality time in their program, and they know their system," Ellis says. "They are always a tough, hard-nosed physical team, and they try to control the game with their defense and rebounding.

"They have good post play and have a very experienced player in Charles Gaines (6-9, 223 pounds, 18.8 points, 11.2 rebounds). He is very versatile being able to shoot it and take it to the basket. Jasper Johnson (6-8, 281, 14.7 points, 6.6 rebounds) and Greg Johnson (6-9, 211, 6.5 points, 4.0 rebounds) are very experienced. They are talented and will be a test for our post players.

"The key for us is to control our turnovers and win the boards," Ellis adds. "We have to do a better job with that than we did the last couple of games. We have to respect David Haywood and Clement Carter (11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds) on the perimeter as well as their inside guys. Jasper Johnson and Greg Johnson can shoot the ball well. They played LSU tough earlier this year." Johnson, who played his high school ball at Central High in Phenix City, is a former Auburn signee who did not qualify academically to play for the Tigers. He led USM in scoring in last year's game vs. Auburn with 13 points.

Marco Killingsworth is Auburn's leading scorer after nine games this season.

The Golden Eagles lost to LSU 65-50 on Dec. 20th. In their last game, on Dec. 22nd, USM took a 91-69 victory over William Carey.

Auburn was upset 77-72 by hot-shooting Georgia State on Dec. 22nd. Less than 48 hours before that in Las Vegas, the Tigers fell 82-69 at UNLV following a 10-day layoff. Auburn's last victory was a 73-51 decision vs. Montana. "We are treating it as a learning experience," Ellis says of his team's losses. "There are some things we need to learn about ourselves, and everybody's working on it and looking at it as an opportunity to get better."

Marco Killingsworth leads the Tigers in scoring at 14.3 points per game and is averaging 5.8 rebounds. Brandon Robinson is also averaging in double figures as a scorer with 12.9 per contest plus 6.9 rebounds. Ian Young is averaging 10.4 points, 3.1 assists and 2.2 rebounds.

Kyle Davis is the leading rebounder with seven per contest and is averaging 9.4 points per game as a reserve. Ronny LeMelle is scoring 9.8 per contest and Nathan Watson is scoring 9.1.

"It is our last chance to fine-tune our system before the start of SEC play," Ellis says of the games this week vs. USM and New Orleans. "It is very important. We've done a lot of experimenting in the first nine games, and we are going to lock in how we play for the SEC."

Basketball Notes: Junior point guard Lewis Monroe returned to practice the day after Christmas. The returning starter has yet to play this season after suffering a broken bone in his foot during a preseason practice...Freshman center Dwayne Curtis could be making his collegiate debut this week after becoming academically eligible after the first semester...The Tigers will be trying to snap a two-game non-conference losing streak. The last time the Tigers lost three straight non-SEC games was at the start of the 1989-90 season at the Great Alaska Shootout when the Tigers lost to Michigan State, UConn and Alaska-Anchorage...Both Auburn home games this weekend have been designated "Kids Day" contests. Anyone 17 and under is admitted to Beard-Eaves Coliseum at no charge with a paying adult ticket.

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