Ellis And Tigers Set For Busy Weekend

Auburn basketball coach Cliff Ellis will face two tough foes on the road--the NCAA and the Ole Miss Rebels.

Auburn, Ala.--It will be a tough and busy week for Auburn Coach Cliff Ellis. The Tigers' coach must fly out to Arizona on Thursday night to be at the NCAA Committee on Infractions Meeting Friday and then jet into Oxford Friday night to meet the Ole Miss Rebels at the Tad Pad on Saturday.

The NCAA Committee on Infractions will meet in Phoenix on Friday to hear the Tigers' case on allegations that two Auburn assistant coaches, one of those being current assistant Shannon Weaver, offered illegal inducements to two players they were recruiting.

Ellis, who looks like a man who can't wait to tell his side of the story, says that is one thing he can't do at present. "I can't comment," Ellis explains. "I'm sorry, I just can't comment on this at this time. At the appropriate time I will have a response.

Asked for his thoughts on Weaver and how he was handling the situation, the coach got straight to the point. "Very maturely," Ellis says. "He is very honorable and he works hard. Shannon Weaver is a very truthful person and I think he has opened the book up and I think you can make your opinion about it. I think you know how I feel about him. I love him. He's like a son to me."

Despite AU's contention that it did not illegally recruit any prospects, any appearance before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions is bound to be a less than happy road trip. Also, Saturday's trip to Tad Smith Coliseum, where the Rebels are 10-3 on the season with two of those losses coming to Memphis and Mississippi State, is certainly no walk in the park either.

Cliff Ellis

Ole Miss, which is 11-9 overall and 3-6 in conference, has lost two straight games on the road at Georgia and Mississippi State, but has grabbed all three of its conference wins at home over LSU, Alabama and South Carolina.

"They have had some good wins, particularly at home, and we are going to have to play a great ball game as always," Ellis notes. "We always have great games and I expect this one to be another one of those tough games in Oxford, Mississippi."

In the first meeting this season, Auburn ran out front early and never looked back taking an easy 80-53 win over the Rebels. "We pressed them a lot," senior forward Marco Killingsworth says. "I remember Coach Ellis said bring your hard hat. Come to the game ready to be physical and play real hard against them."

However, at the Tad Pad the Rebels hold a solid 24-13 advantage over the Tigers, despite Auburn pulling out an 80-75 victory in Oxford last season. Overall though, the Tigers lead the series 66-41 and have taken four straight victories.

Ellis says that everything for Ole Miss starts with its seniors. "Well, Ole Miss has two players in Justin Reed and Aaron Harper that we have had respect for since they were freshmen," he notes. "They have had great careers and they are the leaders of their team.

"Justin Reed is just a fantastic player who can hurt you so many ways," Ellis explains about the senior forward who committed to Auburn before signing with Ole Miss. "He can hurt you inside. He can hurt you with the three. There just aren't many things he cannot do with the basketball and Aaron Harper, he's one of the more prolific three-point shooters that they have had."

For the Rebels, Reed leads the way scoring 18.7 points per game and grabbing eight rebounds per contest. Harper, a 6-7 forward, can knock down shots as well and is scoring 15.4 points per game pulling in five boards and dishing out 3.1 assists.

As a team the Rebels are scoring 64 points, shooting 44.5 percent from the floor, 33.9 percent from three-point land and only turn the ball over 13.2 times per game. The Rebels are also second in the SEC in turnover margin at +2.75.

Marco Killingsworth is averaging 13.6 points and 6.4 rebounds for the Tigers.

The Tigers, who are 12-8 overall and 3-6 in the SEC, are coming off of a much-needed win at home over Georgia and Ellis says that can certainly help his team in a tough environment on Saturday. "The better you can get your players to feel about themselves--I think confidence helps them to be better."

Asked if the difficult schedule and his missing Friday's practice in Oxford would hurt his team, Ellis says he doesn't believe it will. "Our preparation in a situation like this is three hard days and we go into Oxford whether I am there or not," the coach says. "We'll shoot, go up and down the floor for 10 or 15 minutes, shoot foul shots and that is it. The game plan, when they get on that plane, is already done."

However, Ellis, who is 7-4 against Ole Miss head man Rod Barnes, notes that the timing of this meeting couldn't have been better. "Very, very fortunate," Ellis says about the NCAA hearing falling in a week with his team being off on Wednesday. "It would be very difficult to have played a Wednesday night game, even though it is difficult as it is, but, it won't be as bad because our preparation for Ole Miss will be done."

With Auburn needing quite a few wins in the second half of conference play to have any real shoot at an NCAA Tournament berth, Saturday's game seems to take a lot of importance as a winnable road matchup. However, Ellis says that in his position you just can't look at games that way.

"I think every game is important as you go down the stretch," he says. "We have got two tough games ahead of us on the road, but I think they are all of equal importance."

The Tigers and Rebels will tip things off at 5 p.m. in Oxford and the game can be seen on Fox Sports South. The play-by-play will be handled by Dave Neal and Eddie Fogler will have the color duties.

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