Tigers Look For an Upset On Football Trophy Night

Auburn, Ala.--After losing seven straight games in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum from 1997-2003, Alabama will try to win its second straight visit to the Plains Wednesday night. Alabama pulled out a 72-71 squeaker last season in Auburn.

For a third straight year Auburn fans will have reason for a celebration during halftime of the game no matter what is happening with the basketball game. The Alabama chapter of ODK will present the James E. Foy Trophy to Auburn for its 2004 football victory over the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. Auburn beat Alabama 17-7 in 2002, 28-23 in 2003 and 21-13 this past season.

The Bear Bryant National Coach of the Year, Tommy Tuberville, and the rest of the 13-0 Auburn football team will be there to accept the trophy. The Alabama ODK president will also lead the crowd in singing the Auburn fight song.

Former Georgia head football coach and current ESPN announcer Jim Donnan will present the Peoples National Championship Trophy to the football team as well.

As for the basketball game, at 9-8 overall and 0-4 in the SEC, Auburn will be fighting to earn its first conference victory of the season. Meanwhile, Alabama will be trying to keep pace in hopes of winning the conference title.

The Crimson Tide enters the game ranked 14th in the AP Poll and 17th in the coaches poll. At 15-3 overall and 4-1 in the SEC play, the Tide leads the SEC West by half a game over Mississippi State and trails only Kentucky in the overall standings.

"Alabama is maybe as talented as any team in the league," said Auburn coach Jeff Lebo. "They are playing at a high level right now. They can play at every spot which makes them extremely hard to defend. I think the hardest thing about defending them is their unselfishness and their ability to pass the basketball. They have guys that can hurt you at every position. Defensively, they have size and length in there and block shots."

Most SEC teams Auburn faces have a deep bench that can wear down the Tigers late in games. Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried doesn't have that luxury, but he does have plenty of height and arguably the most talented starting five in the league.

"They seem like they are playing with each other, and their rotation is good," Lebo said. "They don't play a lot of guys, but they know how many minutes they are going to play. I think their roles are defined and Mark has done a good job with them. Watching them play, they can hurt you from every spot."

Tide coach Mark Gottfried

Alabama lost only one starter from last year's Elite 8 team, point guard Antoine Pettway. True freshman Ronald Steele of John Carroll High School in Birmingham has stepped into that role and has played a big part in Alabama's success. Early in the season Steele had 18 assists and zero turnovers in a win over East Tennessee State.

"I love Steele," Lebo said. "He could go out and average 18-19 points a game, in my opinion, if he were selfish. He is unselfish. He is happy to make the extra pass. He is happy to give the ball to (Earnest) Shelton and (Kennedy) Winston. If you don't respect him he can also score on you. They have an inside game and they have an outside game. They have experience at every spot. You really do have to pick your poison with them."

The battle at the shooting guard should be a good one with a senior, Shelton, going against the nation's leading freshman scorer, Toney Douglas. Douglas leads the SEC in scoring at 19.1 points per game and Shelton is fifth with 17.4 points per game.

Where Auburn will probably have its biggest problems defensively is with Winston, a 6-6 swing player, and Chuck Davis, a 6-7 post player, who plays bigger than his size.

Winston is scoring a team-high 17.8 points per game and has the ability to get to the basket or hit the jump shot. Known as more of a slasher in his first two seasons, Winston is knocking down 47 percent of his three-point attempts on the season and 58 percent in conference play as a junior.

Davis has is averaging 14.3 points per contest and 7.1 rebounds while shooting 57 percent from the field and 82 percent from the free throw line. Six-foot-ten-inch sophomore center Jemareo Davidson, a much-improved player from a year ago, leads the team in rebounds at 8.2 per game while adding 8.9 points.

Alabama lost its conference opener at Vanderbilt 70-56, but has since won four straight against West opponents, including a 49-point win against Mississippi State.

Tide coach Mark Gottfried said, "Whenever we play Auburn it is an emotional game on both sides. Their record doesn't indicate how good they are in my opinion and how dangerous they are because of how they play."

Auburn is coming off a 35-point loss at Arkansas in a game that was tied late in the first half. The Tigers will be looking for their first win since beating Belmont on Dec. 30.

Coach Jeff Lebo

"The kids are trying hard," Lebo said. "We are just so outmanned and we don't have depth. It is just frustrating for them, and I feel for my kids a little bit because when we take the court it is unlike really anything that I can remember seeing at this level as far as size and as far as depth."

The Auburn women's basketball team started SEC play at 0-4, but knocked off Alabama Sunday to give first-year coach Nell Fortner her first SEC win. Lebo hopes that the same will happen for him.

Tickets for the game and halftime celebration are still available through the Auburn ticket office.

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