A Player With Courage

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn basketball and football in his Monday column.

Courage is an overused term in describing athletic performances, but there is no other word to describe what sophomore center Kyle Davis did against Alabama on Saturday night.

You know the story by now. Davis had arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow last Monday. He was supposed to be out up to four weeks. The same surgery kept NBA star Scottie Pippen sidelines for 2 1/2 weeks.

Davis warmed up in the auxiliary gymnasium before Saturday's game against Alabama. As the Auburn basketball team was preparing to take the floor, he told head coach Cliff Ellis he wanted to play.

Despite intense pain, Davis did indeed play. He blocked three shots, including one put up by Erwin Dudley inside the final minute. When Derrick Bird missed a crucial free throw, Davis got the rebound. Finally, he went to the bench in intense pain. He'd done enough. Auburn defeated Alabama 59-56 for its first Southeastern Conference victory.

How important was Davis' willingness to play through pain that would have kept most players from even dressing for the game? Suffice it to say that Auburn would not have won without him. Because Davis was there, there is hope today for Auburn's basketball team. There is frustration, too, because losses to Arkansas at home and Ole Miss on the road might well have been victories had Davis not been sidelined with the bad elbow.

With back to back road games coming up at Vanderbilt and LSU, Auburn simply could not go 0-3 and expect to be any kind of factor in the West Division. Now, if it can find a way to pull of a win in one of those games, things could get interesting.

There were other heroes besides Davis. Freshman Brandon Robinson, a future star if ever I saw one, dominated the boards with 11 rebounds. Junior point guard Marquis Daniels played big down the stretch, hitting a 3-pointer to tie the game and two free throws to give Auburn the lead for good. Junior guard Derrick Bird continued to show uncanny defensive ability, holding Alabama's Rod Grizzard to just seven points. Abdou Diame, continuing to work his way back from exile, provided some valuable minutes in the second half. Lincoln Glass came off the bench to hit two big 3-pointers.

All in all, it was a good day for Auburn basketball.

It was the Tigers' fifth straight win over Alabama at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. The crowd was what it should be much more often, large and loud. And the Tigers got a victory to be cherished. It had to be a maddening loss for Alabama, which simply can't find a way to win on the road. The Crimson Tide has lost eight straight SEC road games since beating LSU in its road opener last season. Worse, the Crimson Tide has lost 21 of its last 22 SEC road games.

Alabama came to town ranked No. 14 in the nation, but that lofty ranking probably was never deserved. The Tide has some outstanding athletes--Grizzard, Dudley, freshman guard Mo Williams. But it doesn't have enough. There isn't a lot of depth, especially inside. When Kenny Walker went out with four fouls, the Tide had to go with a lineup too small to hang with Auburn on the boards. Alabama is good, certainly good enough to make the NCAA Tournament. It is not great.

Just what Auburn's basketball team is remains to be seen. The Tigers have enough talent and enough depth. They don't have enough experience. At least today, because of Davis' courage, they have hope.


There is still no defensive coordinator on board at Auburn and no indication of when there might be one. Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville almost made a deal with Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads. It seemed as late as Saturday night that Rhoads would pack his bags and head south. Instead, the deal fell through and Tuberville is still looking.

Tuberville certainly seems to have a pulled off a coup in hiring Bob Petrino to be his offensive coordinator. Petrino, respected nationwide for his offensive knowledge, has impressed everyone he's met. It might still be a week or so before a defensive coordinator fills the office once occupied by John Lovett.

Until next time ?

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