Defense Keys Win Over Alabama

Auburn used a tenacious defense to defeat arch-rival Alabama Saturday on the Plains.

Auburn, Ala.--Coming into Saturday's game Alabama's Rod Grizzard was among the leading scorers in the Southeastern Conference and is widely considered as one of the top players in college basketball this season. But he had yet to face Tiger defensive stopper Derrick Bird. Successful just about every game this season in shutting down the opposing team's best player, Bird was once again called on to do his job.

Do it he did.

Derrick Bird continues to shut down opponents night in and night out.

Holding Grizzard to just seven points and five rebounds on just 3-of-11 shooting, Bird's defense was one of the main reasons Auburn was able to come up with the upset 59-56 win at home. While his offense struggled at times and he scored just eight points himself it was his defense that set the tone the entire game for Auburn.

"I just try and focus in on stopping their main guy," Bird notes. "Alabama is a good ball club and Grizzard has carried the team so far. I just wanted to focus in and do my part and if I kept him out of the game as much as possible I know the rest of the guys will do their part.

"I take pride in defense. Defense is hard work as you know. I just come out and work hard and do what I love to do which is play defense."

Another reason for Auburn's impressive defensive performance on Saturday was the return of center Kyle Davis to the team. Just four days removed from elbow surgery, Davis was expected to miss up to four weeks but the sophomore told the coaches just before tip-off that he could go. His insertion into the line-up just minutes into the game seemed to energize the Tiger team and they responded with perhaps their best defensive outing of the year. Holding the Crimson Tide to just 18 field goals and 30 percent shooting from the floor, Auburn's pressure defense had Alabama off balance for much of the game.

Senior Lincoln Glass plays tight defense on Alabama point guard Antoine Pettway.

The Tigers also did something seemingly impossible for this team to do against this Alabama team, they won the rebounding war. Not only did they win it, they crushed the taller and stronger Alabama team by a 49-38 margin. That total includes 11 rebounds from Brandon Robinson to go along with 10 points. Point guard Marquis Daniels added 9 rebounds with his 15 points but it was the presence of Davis that gave the Tigers the size they needed to compete. The shot blocker extraordinaire had three swats in just 16 minutes and added 4 points and 5 rebounds to make his day complete.

"Kyle gives us an inside presence that nobody else on our team gives," Bird says. "Everybody on our team has a special part and that's something that we have been learning throughout the season. We're just coming together."

Playing man-to-man for almost the entire game, the Tigers used their quickness to the ball and Davis' presence inside to challenge the Crimson Tide team to put the ball on the floor. Holding Alabama without a three-point field goal for the entire second half and 4-for-18 for the game, Bird says this Auburn team knows how the play defense and that is the glue for this team as they head into the meat of the SEC schedule.

"Coach Ellis has taught us how to play good defense as a team and I think we've done that all year. That is what has been holding us together a lot. Offensively we've struggled at times but that's a part of playing with each other, but that's coming around as well."

That improvement will be sorely needed as the Tigers hit the road for two straight games as trips to Nashville and Baton Rouge await coach Cliff Ellis' club. If they can keep the momentum and energy they had Saturday afternoon, the road might not be such a dangerous place after all.

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