Not only is it an Auburn-Alabama game, but it will be nationally televised on ESPN and the Tigers, 13-10 overall and 4-8 in conference, have to pull out the win to have any shot at making the NCAA tournament, aside from winning the SEC Tournament. Also on Tuesday night, the Auburn football team will be receiving the ODK-Foy Trophy for the second year in a row at halftime for its 28-23 victory over the Tide in November.
Tigers' center Kyle Davis, who is seventh in the SEC in rebounding with 7.3 boards per game, says to him things just don't get much bigger than in a game like this. "It has been a tough season and it is going to be a huge game for us because it's great to come in and play Alabama," Davis explains.
"It is always going to be a big game for us because that is our in-state rival," he adds. "We have just got to go out there and play it hard and we know what we have got to do in order to finish this season out strong and we have got to start on Tuesday night."
However, defeating the Tide can be tougher than it seems, even at home. Just ask number-four Mississippi State, which Alabama upset 77-73 in Starkville on Saturday. Still, the Tigers have won seven straight over the Tide at home and will be looking move that mark to eight on Tuesday.
Marco Killingsworth is a key figure in Auburn's hopes to make a late run in 2004.
Auburn Coach Cliff Ellis says that he knows that task will be a tough one because Alabama is a team that can get things done shooting the basketball and is leading the SEC in three-point field goal percentage at 38.6 percent.
"They are very dangerous with the three-point shot," Ellis explains. "They are probably as deep with the three-point shot as anybody we play. It is always an emotional game. We are going to have to make sure that we answer those threes--they are dangerous with it. (Kennedy) Winston is probably playing as well as anybody right now in the league and they have got so many guys that can just shoot the ball and they are just a dangerous team."
And Ellis, who is 8-5 versus Alabama head man Mark Gottfried, also notes that getting out on Alabama's shooters will be a big key for his team in the contest. "Anytime you play a team like this that is the thing you have got to do," he says. "You have got to guard it, you have got to make sure you're there when they are ready to take it and you have got to be there, or they are going to hit. That starts with running, you have got to make sure you are back."
For Alabama, which is 13-10 overall and 5-7 in SEC play, Winston leads the way. The 6-6 sophomore forward scored 31 in the Tide's win over Mississippi State and is averaging a team high 16.7 points per game and hits 40.5 percent of his three-pointers. Alabama's other big threat is 6-3 junior guard Earnest Shelton, who is averaging 15.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
Another sophomore, Chuck Davis, is tough inside for the Tide scoring 10.9 points and grabbing six boards per game. At the point Antoine Pettway runs the show for Alabama and is hitting 36.7 percent of his treys and scoring nine points per game. Another big three-point threat is Emmett Thomas, who is shooting 48.6 percent from behind the arc.
In the two teams' previous meeting this season the Tigers found out about Alabama's ability to shoot the ball as the Tide shot 49 percent from the field and 57 percent from three-point land to pummel Auburn 69-46.
Even with the lopsided loss in Tuscaloosa, Tigers' forward Marco Killingsworth, who is only seven points away from scoring 1,000 points in his career, says that he is looking for his team to put forth a much better effort this time around.
"Last game we were turning the ball over more and we just know we have got to handle that ball," Killingsworth notes. "Last time they had their crowd with them. We have got our crowd with us this time. Inside we have got to rebound more. I mean out of me, Kyle and Brandon (Robinson) I don't think we combined for ten rebounds that game."
Ellis also says that he thinks the Tigers should have a bit more fight in them this time. "When we played last time Lewis Monroe was not really back in the fold," he explains. "Brandon Robinson, the score was 8-8, re-aggravated an injury and didn't play anymore. Our chemistry was not good. Not to take anything away from Alabama--nothing to take away from them at all. At that point in time we were not a healthy team and we didn't have chemistry. I think we have been playing a lot better the last two and a half weeks."
Coach Cliff Ellis
Davis notes that he sees a few key things his team must do to carry that improved play into this game and the final stretch run of the season.
"We have just got to move the ball around, we can't stand on offense and we have got to play tough defense," the senior center says. "That is one thing that we are going to come out and do in the rest of the games, just come out and play hard every possession like it is the last possession of the game."
The senior also says that he will do whatever it takes to get the job done. "I am very determined," he notes. "I am going to go out there and give my best whether it is scoring, blocking shots, rebounding or running the floor to help get the opposing team tired. I am going to do what I can to help my team win."
Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. and there are still tickets remaining for the game and if it does not sell out it will be the first time in 12 games that the Auburn-Alabama game has not been a sellout. AU officials are encouraging fans to wear orange as a part of the "Wear Orange, Get the Red Out" promotion for the game.