Basketball Tigers Face First Road Test

Auburn will try to improve its regular season record to 3-0 against a dangerous Western Kentucky team that won 28 games last season.

Auburn, Ala.--After four straight home wins, two exhibition victories and two regular season wins, the Tigers hit the road for a Sunday basketball game in Nashville, Tenn., vs. the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.

Tipoff time is 2 p.m. CST from the Gaylord Entertainment Center in downtown Nashville.

The Tigers will try to pick up where they left off on Tuesday night when they put a 29-point whipping on Georgia State as Coach Cliff Ellis picked up his 500th Division I career victory. Auburn cruised to the easier than expected victory thanks to torrid shooting. The Tigers hit 68 percent of their field goals, including 70 percent in the second half.

Western Kentucky, 28-4 last season, is off to a slow start without its injured big man, seven-foot-one, 285-pound center Chris Marcus, who is not expected to be available for the Auburn game. He averaged 15.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game as a junior.

Without Marcus this season the Hilltoppers are 1-1 with a 107-68 opening day loss on the road at No. 1 Arizona followed by an 80-73 home overtime victory over Virginia Commonwealth. The two teams have played just twice and the Hilltoppers won both. The last time was in 1985 when Western Kentucky outscored the Tigers 71-58 in a game played at WKU's homecourt in Bowling Green, Ky.

"Western Kentucky was 20th (actually 19th) in the country in the AP poll last week," Ellis said. "They are a team that always gets after you defensively. They have a good inside-outside balance. They are going to come in playing Kentucky basketball. They go into Kentucky last year and win. If you remember that they rolled right into (Lexington, Ky.) for the opener and won. They had a great year and they have a lot of those guys back.

"We are going to have to play a great game," Ellis adds. "It is going to be in Nashville and it is going to be like us playing up in Birmingham--it is their home game. We are going to have to come ready to play. It will be a challenge."

The Hilltoppers are led by 6-8 senior forward David Boyden, a 230-pounder who is averaging 20.5 points and 10 rebounds per game. Mike Wells, a 6-3, 190 senior guard, is averaging 14 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. Patrick Sparks, a 6-1, 185-pound guard, is averaging 13.5 points, 4.0 assists and 2.5 rebounds. Auburn recruited Sparks when he was a senior at Muhlenberg North in Central City, Ky.

Rounding out the starting lineup for Coach Dennis Felton, who has a 77-46 record at WKU, is 6-8, 240 senior forward Nate Williams (9.0 points, 8.0 rebounds) and Filip Videnov, a 6-4, 200 senior guard from Bulgaria, who is averaging 4.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

Auburn has four starters averaging in double figures with Marquis Daniels leading the way at 21.0 followed by sophomore Marco Killingsworth (18.5) and senior Derrick Bird (17.0). Junior center Kyle Davis is averaging 13 points, eight blocks and seven rebounds per contest.

Bird, a 6-4 guard, says there was nothing complicated that caused the Tigers to play so well in their 100-71 victory over Georgia State. "We focused in on playing hard defensively, and offensively we focused on making the easy pass, just making the simple plays--moving the ball and screening and getting each other open," Bird says. "I think we executed and that is what helped us out."

With three more assists, Marquis Daniels would have accomplished the first triple-double in Auburn basketball history in Auburn's 100-71 victory over Georgia State.

Daniels has settled in nicely as a senior playing the small forward spot and his early numbers show that. He is averaging 7.5 rebounds per game and six assists in addition to his 21 points scoring average. Last year at this stage of the season, he was struggling to play the point guard position in a experiment that was later abandoned. "The shots are falling for me and I am trying to get on the boards," says Daniels, who adds that the team is shooting well as a group so far this season.

The Tigers will have a quick turnaround following their road trip to Nashville. They will play Southeastern Louisiana at 7 p.m. on Monday night at Beard Eaves Memorial Coliseum, the first of three home games next week. The Tigers will also play South Carolina State on Wednesday at 8 p.m. and will face Rutgers at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

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