Auburn lost the game, its first setback of the season, and looked sloppy in doing it. Then, playing less than 48 hours later, the Tigers were upset at home by hot-shooting Georgia State. However, one good thing did come out of the two-game losing streak that started vs. UNLV. Junior guard Nathan Watson broke out of his shooting slump and is now playing like he was expected to perform.
"Since I started hitting shots at UNLV, it gave me a lot more confidence in my shot and enabled me to shoot the ball with more confidence," says Watson, who has averaged 13 points per game in his last four outings while hitting 44.4 percent of his three-pointers during that stretch compared to his season current average of 30.9 percent on treys.
The former walk-on, who was put on scholarship prior to this season, says that he feels good about his offensive game as the Tigers prepare for their conference opener on Wednesday night vs. unbeaten Vanderbilt. "Not starting off real good kind of bothered me," Watson says. "It gave me that urge to play better each game and that is what I am going to try to do."
A good example of how he is back on his game offensively came on a running bank shot he made Friday night in the second half vs. the New Orleans Privateers. The shot was perfect even though he was poked in the eye by a UNO defender.
Coach Cliff Ellis has given his 9-2 Tigers mixed reviews since going 2-2 after winning seven straight games to open the season. The play of Watson has probably been the highlight during the last four games since the Tigers took a long break for final exams.
"He played very well," Ellis says of Watson's performance in Auburn's final pre-conference test, a 70-55 victory over the Privateers. "He has played well since we have gotten back (from Vegas). He has probably played his best basketball."
Against New Orleans, Watson hit 6-8 field goals and was 3-3 on three-pointers in 32 minutes of court time. He also played his regular solid defensive game.
Watson says getting better defensively is a key to Auburn's success during the 16-game conference regular season. "I think we have to keep practicing to get better," the junior says. "I guess we will find out where we are at our first SEC game. We are just going to have to keep practicing and work on our weaknesses and get ready to play. We need to work on playing defense the whole game."
Tiger Ticket Extra: Point guard Lewis Monroe made his debut this season with three minutes of action at the end of the victory over New Orleans. Ellis says it is obvious that the returning starter is not ready for prime time action yet as he continues to rehab after missing the first 10 games with a fractured bone in his foot. "Our goal is this," Ellis says when discussing the junior. "We have a six-game stretch and then we have an open date. That six games sounds like a lot of time, but it is really a 2 1/2-week span. I want to be able to get him back in during this time and then during the stretch of 10 games that we have left have our team in full gear through the conference tournament. It is good to have him back. Hopefully, each day he will get better, Curtis (freshman center Dwayne Curtis) will get better and our bench will get better."...Junior forward Brandon Robinson says the Tigers need to improve with unbeaten Vandy on the horizon. "I feel like how our team chemistry has come a long way," the forward says. "We are ready, but we are not. We are just going to take it as far as we can get it. We are going to get all our steps together and then we will climb that ladder as far as we can go." Robinson scored 16 points and added a dozen rebounds vs. New Orleans.
More Tiger Ticket Extra: Ellis says that junior Troy Gaines should continue to see time at point guard after playing solidly in the past two games. Prior to that, he had played very sparingly this season. The six-foot-one junior from Tucson, Ariz., didn't get off the bench in five of the team's 12 games. "What I like is his energy level was there and he was vocal," Ellis says. "What he showed to me is that he wanted to win. After those two losses, we kind of had long faces and he had that attitude of wanting to turn this thing around."...Individual tickets for SEC games go on sale for the first time on Monday at 1-800-AUB-1957. The first home conference game is Saturday vs. Ole Miss...Vanderbilt won at TCU 95-60 in its final pre-conference game to go 11-0 for the second time in Vandy history. The last time that happened was 33 seasons ago.