Lebo Expects Physical Game in SEC Opener

Auburn will open SEC tournament play on Thursday in Atlanta.

Auburn, Ala.--After a kick in the midsection type of loss to close the regular season at Ole Miss on Saturday, Jeff Lebo's Auburn basketball team will try to rebound for this week's Southeastern Conference Tournament opener

The Tigers, 17-14 overall and 7-9 in the SEC, will take on the Georgia Bulldogs at 6:30 p.m. CST on Thursday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. UGA won the regular season meeting 86-79 in a foul-plagued game in Athens on Feb. 17th. The Bulldogs come into the contest 17-12 overall, 8-8 in SEC.

"We have to regroup quickly emotionally more than anything after a heart-breaking loss at Ole Miss where our team played very well--well enough to win the game," Lebo says. "Losing it right there at the end was hard for our coaches and our players."

If the Tigers had pulled out a victory at Ole Miss, they would have been the No. 1 seed from the SEC West for the league tournament and co-champions of the division. The loss dropped the Tigers to the fourth seed from the west and puts AU in a tough bracket with the opening game vs. Georgia. If the Tigers win, defending national champion Florida awaits in round two on Friday.

To match up with Georgia on Thursday evening, the Tigers will need to be ready for a tough game, Lebo says. "Their physical play is something that has been a factor for us," he points out. "If you look at the three times we have played Georgia the last two years it has been nothing but a very physical fouling contest.

"We had maybe 60 fouls in our last game over in Athens," Lebo adds. "It has always been a physical, tough and nasty game that has really been determined a lot of times by the free throw line."

The winner of the SEC Tournament receives an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. It would be a major upset for the Tigers to win four straight to make the NCAA field, but there is a better chance the Tigers could receive an NIT bid. A win over Georgia, a team on the NCAA Tournament bubble, should help's AU's cause for the NIT.

Commenting on the NCAA Tournament, Lebo had this answer when asked if a team from the SEC West will be in the field this year. "When you have the number one power-rated conference and you have a team that wins the west and not get in, I think that would be a huge mistake. Looking at it right now, I just don't how many will go from our league. I think there are four that are locks and after that I just don't know what is going to happen. I think a lot is going to have to be played out. Somebody in the West is going to have to win a couple of games in the SEC Tournament to lock up something.

"The league is so balanced," Lebo notes. "I think the teams that were picked on the lower end were a lot better than they were in the past. I think that made for an interesting scenario, at least in the West."

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