Tigers Looking for Another Road Victory

Auburn, Ala.--Still holding on to postseason hopes by a thread, the Auburn men's basketball team will need to steal a win against Alabama at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday night to keep those dreams alive.

Following a heart-breaking 65-61 loss to LSU on Feb. 18 to drop to 10-13 overall, a bid to the NIT seemed far-fetched. After back-to-back wins over Mississippi State and Ole Miss, a victory over Alabama would give the Tigers a decent chance to finish at or above .500.

"We talked about it," says Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo. "We talked about how close we were to getting out of the bottom and being a fourth seed in the (SEC) tournament. We still have hopes of a winning season and he kids have responded well."

Following the trip to Tuscaloosa, the Tigers end the regular season with South Carolina, which is just 5-10 in the SEC and losers of four straight. And if the Auburn can win another game in the regular season, its likely opponent in the first round of the SEC tournament would be either South Carolina or Georgia, a team it beat 66-65 in late January.

The NIT has changed its ways this season under new ownership after being bought out by the NCAA. The 40-team field will consist of regular season conference winners not selected for the NCAA tournament as well as an at-large field, which will be selected the same way as the NCAA tournament.

Unlike in the past, a winning record is not a requirement to be selected.

The NCAA has rewarded teams in the past who were playing well toward the end of the schedule, and if the Tigers play well to end the season they may have a chance.

But first things first--a win at Alabama won't be easy. The last two teams to go to Coleman Coliseum, Tennessee and Florida, were highly ranked and came out with a loss.

The Tigers had an excellent chance to beat the Crimson Tide earlier this season in Auburn, but faltered down the stretch and lost 56-52. However, that was an Alabama team playing its first game without one of its top players.

"We got them when they weren't really sure how they were going to play without (senior forward) Chuck Davis," Lebo says. "I think they've figured it out now. The other huge thing is that you've got a healthy Steele (point guard Ronald Steele), right now. I don't think in the beginning of the season he was healthy.

Ronald Steele is a key player for Coach Mark Gottfried's Tide team.

"He's healthy now and his back feels better," Lebo adds. "Now he is stepping out and having to score for his team, vs. a guy who was really trying to pass it. I also think with the loss of Davis, Hendrix (Richard Hendrix) gets the opportunity and he's improved tremendously from the last time we played them."

As a freshman, Hendrix has made strides throughout the season and is averaging 9.7 points and eight rebounds. He had 11 points and 17 boards against Florida.

"Hopefully our freshmen have gotten better," Lebo says. "We've gone through some of the same things with roles and understanding what our roles are and what we can do individually and as a team. What's amazing about them is I think they've played better without Chuck Davis than they have with him. I never would have thought that, but they are.

"We're playing better," Lebo adds. "We could have easily won against LSU and come in with three in a row. We're limited in so many ways, but the kids continue to play hard and, in the last two, find ways to win."

Auburn is 2-0 since freshman Josh Dollard was suspended. Lebo says that the forward will continue to practice with the team, but won't play the rest of the season.

Coming off a 58-54 win in Oxford over Ole Miss, the Tigers are looking for just their second road win of the season.

‘We've had tough ones," Lebo says. "We played well at Tennessee on the road, besides a five minute stretch, and we played well against LSU on the road. We did some good things, but to finally be able to win one is nice. It was exciting for the kids.

"They're so young, they don't know how hard it is yet," he adds. "They don't fully realize how big it is to win on the road."

Alabama comes into the game hoping to solidify its SEC tournament seed and NCAA tournament bid at 16-10 overall and 9-5 in the SEC. Tip off is schedule for 7 p.m. and the game will not be televised.


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