Bird Playing Key Role In Auburn's Success

Auburn, Ala.--Derrick Bird, the best defensive player on the Auburn University basketball team, says the key to his team's improved play in the past year is a more effective offense.

Bird and the Tigers are one of just three SEC teams that got through the first week of conference play without a loss. The Tigers (13-2 overall, 2-0 conference) will go for their eighth straight victory on Wednesday night in Columbia, S.C., against Coach Dave Odom's South Carolina Gamecocks. Tipoff time is 6:30 p.m. CST and there is no TV coverage of the contest at the new 17,600-seat Carolina Coliseum.

"The biggest pickup from last year is on our offensive end," says Bird. "We are being more patient. We are moving better. I know I am and other guys are moving better.

"We are learning each other better over a year," the 6-4, 195-pound senior guard adds. "We are making better passes and our keeping our turnovers down even though it was a little sloppy last game, but we are just doing better as a team. I think we are rebounding well, too--boxing out and rebounding is a big difference from last year, too."

Auburn defeated Arkansas 52-37 in Fayetteville last Saturday while South Carolina dropped a 62-55 game at Kentucky the same day. Auburn also defeated Vanderbilt in the conference opener by a 62-59 margin in Auburn.

Bird and fellow senior Marquis Daniels have assumed leadership roles on the 2002-2003 team, which has already surpassed last year's victory total (12-16 record) with 14 conference regular season games still to play.

"I think it is important that we stay together as a team," says Bird. He defines that by describing staying together as "just helping everybody--telling everybody you have a big role on this team and we need you whether it is rebounding, scoring or posting up, whatever it is."

A season earlier, the Tigers never recovered from unexpectedly losing point guard Jamison Brewer to the NBA and suffering several injuries, including the loss of key senior forward Mack McGadney. This year, the chemistry is better and the confidence is rising. Bird says winning on the road last weekend helps. "It is a great confidence builder after struggling last year on the road," he notes. "It feels real good to pick this one up. It is going to help us going into South Carolina."

Auburn coach Cliff Ellis has praise for Bird's leadership role. "I think he has always been a quiet leader," Ellis says. "He and Marquis are not vocal-vocal. Marquis is more vocal than Derrick, who is one of those guys that people respect. He is just a good, clean-cut all-around individual who is a tremendous person and our guys respect him. When he does say something, it means something."

On the court, Bird is averaging 11 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists and he is always ready for the challenge of defending the opponent's leading scorer. He is hitting 49.1 percent of his shots, including 26-59 three-pointers. Bird's 44.1 percent avreage on threes is seventh best in the SEC.

Bird says the Tigers put in a lot of hard work in the offseason to get ready. It is showing in the won/loss record and on the statistics sheet. The Tigers are currently scoring 77.9 points per contest, up from last year's average of 65.5. As a team Auburn is hitting 51.1 percent of its field goals while holding opponents to 41.6 percent shooting.

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