Tigers Try To Protect Home Court Against Hogs

Auburn looks to end a two-game losing streak when they face the improving Arkansas Razorbacks on Wednesday night.

Auburn, Ala.--Two teams looking to grab some much-needed momentum square off Wednesday night as the Auburn Tigers (10-5, 1-3) take on the Arkansas Razorbacks (9-6, 1-3) in a crucial SEC showdown for both schools. Just a third into the conference schedule, neither team can afford to fall four games below .500 in the league and that makes this as close to a must-win as you can have this early in the season.

For the Hogs this game is about recapturing momentum they built in an 86-78 defeat of Ole Miss Saturday in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks have already lost at home to LSU to open the SEC schedule and must nab at least one road win to have a shot to finish .500 in the league this season. For Auburn the game is much more dire because the Tigers have already lost at home this year and have to avoid another home defeat at all costs. The added pressure on this game makes it a tough challenge for the Tigers coming off a terrible performance in Saturday's 69-46 loss at Alabama.

"They are a very deep team," Ellis says of the Razorbacks. "Stan (Heath) has put together some players to go along with the players returning from last year. It's a deep team. They play a lot of players. They are very athletic and they play hard. It's normally a physical game when you play Arkansas. I think it's going to be important that our basketball team get ready to play some physical basketball because I think that's going to be the type of game that it is." The Hogs are led by small forwards Jonathan Modica (6-4, 200, So.), who is averaging 18 points per game to go along with 4 rebounds. Freshman guard Ronnie Brewer (6-7, 190) has come on strong this season and scores almost 13 points per game and pulls down a team-leading 6.5 rebounds. Add in 3.7 assists per game and you have the total package.

Powerful forward Billy Pharis (6-8, 230, Sr.), a transfer from SMU, is a force in the middle with 8.8 points and 4 rebounds per game to his credit. Rounding out the starting lineup are forward Rashard Sullivan (6-8, 235, So.) and sophomore guard Eric Ferguson (6-1, 204). Ferguson is the most dangerous of the supporting cast offensively and put up 19 Saturday against the Rebels.

"There's not a guy on their team that is not a threat," Ellis says. "Every guy that they put on the floor has a threat. I'm impressed with the skill level. They are a young team, but certainly when you look at all these guys they were very highly-rated going into this Arkansas program. They are just young, but a skilled team."

Nathan Watson will be a key for Auburn this week against the Arkansas zone.

One thing Auburn can expect this week is a zone defense from the Hogs after the Tigers' performance against the 2-3 Saturday in Tuscaloosa. Failing to knock down shots from the perimeter, the Tigers were mired in a long slump that took them out of the game early. Arkansas has played a zone much of the year and did so almost exclusively against Ole Miss, something that Ellis says his team just has to work through and gain some confidence shooting the ball.

"We were searching and looking for guys who could step up and do some things," Ellis said. "That's the biggest thing that I see with it. We've got guys capable of shooting, we really do. I think they are doing to, we just have to stay the course. The best thing we can do, I wish we could get healthy. That's something I can't control."

Health is a definite concern for the Tigers with Brandon Robinson's ankle becoming an aggravating nuisance to the junior forward. Averaging 12.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this season, the 6-8 Robinson was forced out of the game early against Alabama after coming down wrong on the already sore ankle. It remains a question mark for the Tigers this week and may force Ellis into playing a different looking lineup against the Hogs, one that is more guard oriented.

"I think that's very much in the realm of possibility," Ellis says. "I think all of our perimeter guys need to be ready. I think if Arkansas is going to throw a lot of guys out there we're going to do the same thing."

Auburn is led by junior power forward Marco Killingsworth's 14.5 points and the left also pulls down 6.4 rebounds a game. If Robinson is unable to go look for junior college transfer Quinnel Brown to get the nod at small forward. Averaging 5.3 points this season, he's coming off a 12-point effort against Alabama on Saturday. Rounding out the starting lineup will be center Kyle Davis (6-10, 235, Sr.), who is averaging 8.6 points and a team-leading 7.9 rebounds per game. In the backcourt juniors Lewis Monroe and Nathan Watson get the start, but expect both Ian Young and Ronnie Lemelle to see extensive minutes. Young is averaging 8.5 points this season and has been Auburn's most consistent outside shooter this season.

Tip-off for Wednesday's game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and there is no television for the game. Saturday the Tigers travel to Gainesville to face the powerful Florida Gators in a 3 p.m. start on CBS.

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