Following an 83-66 win over Arkansas-Monticello, the Bulldogs come in with three consecutive wins after falling 75-67 at ninth-ranked Iowa in the season opener. Led by senior guard Gerrod Henderson (6-4, 208), who is averaging 18.3 points and five assists per game, Louisiana Tech brings the most balanced team offensively that Auburn has faced this season.
Three more players average in double figures with Ole Miss transfer Darrian Brown next at 13.8, Antonio Meeking at 13.7 and 7.7 rebounds and Zach Johnson scoring 10 points and pulling down 7.5 rebounds.
"Louisiana Tech is extremely good," Auburn head coach Cliff Ellis said. "I look at this week before we go into exam week, we finish the almost the first half of our non-conference play. We finish them with just two tremendous games, the first of which is Louisiana Tech. They lost by seven by Iowa at Iowa. Had a chance. They were down just four points with less than two minutes to play…they have four starters back with two or three juco transfers…I think it (this week) is a great gauge for where we are one month from the first conference game."
For the Tigers this game marks the final tune-up game before the battle with Virginia. That means a continuing quest to find the right combinations on the floor at the right times, particularly at point guard. The Marquis Daniels experiment continues to show dividends in the win column, but the team still isn't running smoothly, something that will have to change quickly to compete against the Cavaliers. Daniels dished out a career-high eight assists against Florida International the last time out, but his scoring has diminished in his new role. Someone else has to take up the slack and it appears Bird and newcomer Brandon Robinson have stepped forward to answer the call.
Bird, a junior college transfer, had struggled of late offensively before the FIU game but came out of his shell to torch the Panthers and lead the Tigers to victory. Averaging a team-high 11.2 points per game, Bird made five three-pointers on the way to 24 points while Robinson scored the games first six points and finished with 10 for the game. On the year he's averaging 9.6 points and four rebounds in just over 20 minutes of action per game. Adam Harrington, who is back from an ankle sprain and 100 percent, and Kyle Davis round out the starting five for the Tigers who are looking for improvement in all areas in Tuesday night's game.
"I believe that each practice everybody is getting better," Bird said. "Coach Ellis is doing a great job of teaching the game to us and helping it seem easier. We're working hard. These games are experience for the conference coming up. We're in a tough conference and La. Tech and Virginia this week are going to be like conference games. We're just working hard and we'll go out there and do our best."
Something you may see more of is rotation underneath, particularly between freshman Marco Killingsworth, sophomore Abdou Diame and senior Mack McGadney. With a strong body and the quickness to run the floor, Killingsworth gives the coaching staff a player who can hold his own in just about any type of game.
The same can't be said for Diame or McGadney, who both have limitations in their game. Diame, because of his lack of bulk, can't handle the constant pounding underneath in a half-court game. McGadney, after his knee surgery, can't take the rigors of a 94-foot game. Watch for the tempo of the game to determine which players Ellis gives minutes to and which must sit and wait on the sidelines.
An area of concern for Auburn basketball fans the last few years has been the lack of consistency from the free throw line. That is back again this season for good reason. Shooting just 57.6 percent from the line (72-125), the Tigers are well below last year's 65.1 percent mark, which was bad enough to be last in the SEC. While free throw shooting is normally a product of a young team, this group must get considerably better as the season progresses or it will cost them numerous games in the always-close SEC.
Tip-off for Tuesday's game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday's contest with Virginia in the Arby's Hardwood Classic is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. start at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. The game follows the opener of UNLV and UAB, which begins at 1 p.m.