Lebo's Tigers Looking to Turn the Tide

A preview of the Auburn vs. Alabama basketball game on Tuesday night is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--The No. 12-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team travels to Auburn Tuesday at 8 p.m. for a game televised nationally on ESPN. The Crimson Tide is 15-3 overall and 2-2 in the SEC while the Tigers are 12-8 and 2-3.

Mark Gottfried's squad doesn't have much depth to speak of, but the starting five is about as solid as any around the country. Point guard Ronald Steele and sophomore forward Richard Hendrix were big names coming out of high school, and senior center Jermareo Davidson has also made a name for himself with 1,078 career points and 814 rebounds in three-plus seasons.

But the player with possibly the most potential of any on the Tide roster is sophomore forward Alonzo Gee, who scored 17 points and had 10 rebounds at Auburn last season.

"Their starting five, I think four are legitimate NBA-type players," says Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo. "I think they've got five that would go against anybody in the country--Florida's, North Carolina's--those five are outstanding and four of those have the potential to play at the next level.

"I think personally, Gee has the best chance to play," Lebo adds. "He's the one that you talk about the least of all of them. He's a match-up problem for everybody. He's just so athletic. He's shooting 42 percent from three and he can get to the basket. He's just a hard guy to defend."

At 6-6, 215 pounds, Gee is averaging a team-high 14.9 points and is similar-type player as former DePaul standout and current New York Knick Quentin Richardson.

"Gee has exploded on the scene," Lebo explains. "I don't know if there's an offensive rebounder in the country that's any better than Alonzo Gee. He is the best I have seen in a long time at offensive rebounding the basketball."

Frank Tolbert, one of the better athletes in the league by his own rights, agrees with Lebo's assessment of the Crimson Tide sophomore from Palm Beach, Fla.

"He's a pretty good athlete, I'll give him that," Tolbert notes. "He's an explosive jumper, he can shoot the ball from inside and out and like Coach says he's a great offensive rebounder. I'll give him props where they're due. I was reading their bios and all of them are in double digits. That's the first that I've seen of teams we're played before."

Hendrix, a wide body and one of the stronger players in the SEC at 6-8, 265, is averaging 14.4 points per game and 8.8 rebounds.

"Hendrix is much more confident than he was his first year," Lebo says. "I think he struggled early his freshman year, as most do with height and getting in shape and the rigors of being pushed consistently. I think he's at that stage where they all thought he would be. He was one of the top two or three players coming out in the country."

Six-foot-ten center Davidson has dealt with a tremendous amount of personal tragedy this season. He was involved in a car wreck in Atlanta in which his girlfriend was killed while the two were visiting Davidson's brother in the hospital. Shortly thereafter his brother also passed away. Even though he's been through tough times off the court, Davidson is the team's leading rebounder at nine a game and is adding 14.3 points.

Steele, who is regarded by some as one of the top point guards around, isn't having the junior season he had hoped for because of tendonitis in the knee and a recent ankle sprain. He has been a defensive liability for Gottfried, but is averaging 10.3 points and 4.5 assists.

Rounding out the starting five is shooting guard 6-6 Mykal Riley, who the Tide picked up when former UAB coach Mike Anderson left to take the head coaching job at Missouri during the off season.

"Riley has been a great fit for them because they needed a perimeter shooter," Lebo says. "The kid was going to UAB and then in the exchange of coaches Alabama got him. He's just been a nice fit for them in a need area. He can really shoot the ball, he's a pretty good passer and he's got size. That's the one thing they have--they've got size at pretty much every position.

Riley is hitting 37.2 percent of his three-point attempts and is scoring 13.1 points per game.

The Tigers need consistency from Tolbert. The junior had 24 points in a win over Tennessee but just eight in the loss to Mississippi State on Saturday.

With Quan Prowell joining his Tiger teammates nine games ago, Lebo also has five players averaging in double-figures in scoring. Rasheem Barrett, Prowell, Tolbert, Korvotney Barber and Josh Dollard are all scoring between 11.3 and 12.6 per game. Point guard Quantez Robertson is second in the league with 5.4 assists per contest.

"We're getting better and figuring out a rotation," Lebo explains. "We've played some smaller teams in the league (Tennessee and Mississippi State) and we're getting ready to play some bigger guys. We're going to have to be able to slide (Prowell) to play a little three so we can play Quan, Josh and Vot some together, which we haven't done."

While Alabama has won seven consecutive basketball games against Auburn, the Tigers' 22-15 football victory in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 18 marked the fifth straight time Auburn has won on the gridiron. That will be celebrated during halftime with the presentation of the ODK Sportsmanship Trophy to Tommy Tuberville and the football team. Cotton Bowl officials will also br present to give Tuberville a trophy for his team's 17-14 victory over Nebraska on New Year's Day in Dallas.

Lebo is hoping that the halftime celebrations may help with support for the basketball team against the Crimson Tide.

"Our crowds have gotten better here lately," he notes. "I'd like to put on a show for them that would make them want to come back all of the time. I know that'd be big for our players and give us energy, but we've got to play well to get them back in here.

"I want to get people back in stands more than anything," Lebo adds. "I think we'll have a good crowd and if we can play well we'll bring people back in here. We've done some good things here lately and we've gotten over the hump against a Top 25 team."

Tickets for the general public are $20.

The first 500 students to each home game get a free admission, but those tickets have already been claimed. The rest of the student tickets are just $2. Because of long lines at previous home games, students are strongly encouraged purchase theirs Tuesday morning from the Beard-Eaves ticket office.

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