This season almost mirrors this series as a whole as the Tigers come limping into the game to play a team they have had little success against in the past. With just 17 wins in 91 games against Kentucky and only one win since the 1989-90 season, Auburn will have to play a great game Tuesday night to challenge the always tough Wildcats.
"We know we've got a tough game," Ellis said. "Anytime Kentucky comes to town or you play them you always know that you're playing one of the premier teams in the country and it takes a great effort no matter when you play them. I think that's what is going to be important, that our team go out and play our best basketball. That's what it takes to beat a team like Kentucky."
Coach Tubby Smith's squad is led into action by senior forward Tayshaun Prince. Averaging 17.1 points at 6.4 rebounds, he leads the team in both categories and presents the Tigers with a tremendous challenge because of his skills both in the post and on the perimeter. Keith Bogans is Kentucky's other dangerous scorer, though he hasn't been as productive this season. Averaging 12.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest, the 6-5 junior has the ability to take a game over at any time. He proved that Saturday by scoring 25 points in Kentucky's win at Notre Dame.
Big center Jules Camara (5.1 points, 3.8 rebounds), point guard Cliff Hawkins (8.0, 2.6) and shooting guard Gerald Fitch (8.6, 5.4) round out the starting five for Kentucky. Coming off the bench are several talented players including big man Marquis Estill, who averages 10 points per game. Kentucky has 10 players who average double-figures in minutes played.
"They're deep," Ellis said. "They have players like Tayshaun Prince, who was the Player of the Year last year in our conference that leads team. They've got strong inside play and they've got very skilled players. They're deep and Tubby has done a great job for them. Our defense is going to be a key for us because it has been the key for us throughout the year. Hopefully we'll get out and make some shots and get some rebounds and let our defense continue to work."
While the defense has certainly been something to brag about, the same can't be said for the offense. Scoring just 68.8 points per game while shooting less than 43 percent from the floor, it's no wonder the Tigers are struggling in SEC play. Add to that a free throw percentage of 58.5 percent and you have a recipe for disaster, and that's exactly what Auburn has been of late. The last outing was a complete failure as LSU completely dominated Auburn from start to finish on the way to an easy win in Baton Rouge. Now the Tigers must regroup and play the game of the year against Kentucky.
If Auburn is to pull off the upset, point guard Marquis Daniels must play up to his capabilities. Averaging 11.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game, he will have to carry the load from start to finish and against an experienced and deep Kentucky team, that is a very tall order. Joining Daniels in the back court for the Tigers will be Derrick Bird and Adam Harrington. The defensive stopper, Bird is averaging 11.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game while Harrington is scoring 9.6 points per contest and pulling down 3.6 rebounds. The junior from Bernardston, Mass. surpassed the 1,000 point barrier for his career in Saturday's loss to LSU and will be honored before the Kentucky game.
In the paint the Tigers send Brandon Robinson and Kyle Davis to battle in the starting line-up. Averaging 10.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, Robinson has been Auburn's most consistent player in conference play and will have to come up big Tuesday night on the boards against the bigger and stronger Wildcats. Davis enters averaging 6.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and an SEC leading 3.9 blocks per game, which is good enough for 5th nationally. Davis must remain out of foul trouble if Auburn is to have any chance to control the defensive boards.
With senior Mack McGadney a shadow of his former self, expect Ellis to go with true freshman Marco Killingsworth early if things aren't going good in the paint. The powerful Killingsworth is averaging 8 points per game in SEC play and shooting 64 percent from the floor. For the season he averages 7.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in just 17 minutes of action per game.
The Tigers return to action Sunday at 3 p.m. when they travel to Knoxville to face the Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols are coming in following an impressive win over Syracuse Saturday. They will be without top scorer Ron Slay, who injured a knee and is lost for the season.