Tigers Talking Team Basketball After 4-0 Start

With two home wins and two road victories to start SEC play, the Auburn basketball Tigers have run their record to 15-2.

Auburn, Ala.--Marquis Daniels hadn't lost to Alabama on his homecourt in three previous tries. On Saturday, he and his Auburn teammates made sure that the senior made it a clean sweep.

"It's a great feeling," Daniels says. "It is hard to explain. It makes it even more special with them being ranked and a lot of people picking us to be last (in the SEC) coming into the season. It was just a great time for us to earn a little respect."

Daniels scored 13 points to tie for team high with Marco Killingsworth, Derrick Bird and Brandon Robinson. "It is a great feeling to go out to never lose to Alabama at home," Daniels says.

Daniels, who came into the game averaging a team-leading 19.4 points per game, didn't have a good shooting game. He made just 5-15 field goals and was 0-4 from three-point range, but he didn't let that bog down down his defense, passing or rebounding.

"That is part of basketball," he says of the off-game offensively. "You are going to miss some shots. You just have got to keep playing, stay focused and don't let my teammates see me down because they are looking at me to be a leader. If I ever look like I am getting down they may try to follow me so I just try to stay positive. I had good looks. They just weren't going for me."

Daniels says that Saturday's 77-68 victory over Alabama again illustrates that the Tigers are a true team. "Anybody can step up and knock down big shots for us," he says. "It is not just a one man team. I have trust in all of my guys to take the big shot. They stepped up tonight. I think we had four players with 13 and a couple with nine. It just goes to show that we have a balanced attack."

Auburn coach Cliff Ellis agrees with his senior about the main reason for Auburn's 4-0 SEC start. "I think that is what this is--a team," Ellis says. "It is a balanced team. It is a team that doesn't have any one player that is looking for the glory. They want to win and they want to win as a group."

Daniels says that during the game that Ellis challenged the Tigers to step up and do a better job of rebounding, something the Tigers did late in the first half and throughout the final half. The senior says he thinks that was the key to Auburn's victory. "We had to start boxing out better," Daniels says. "They were getting too many second shots earlier in the first half. That was keeping them in the game a lot. Once we started rebounding, we were able to get out and run the floor a little bit better."

Marquis Daniels celebrates moments after setting up teammate Marco Killingsworth for a game-ending slam dunk vs. Alabama.

Daniels says that the defensive work of fellow senior Bird on Tide star guard Maurice Williams played a big role in the game. Williams finished with 16 points, but hit just 6-13 field goals and had one more turnover than assist.

Bird says, "We played a great inside-out game. We moved the ball well and we were patient on offense. It shows we are growing up from last year. We were in a lot of games, but we were young and inexperienced. It shows what an offseason can do for you and what one year of experience can do for you."

Beating a Top 10 team and moving the overall record to 15-2 on the season shows just how much the Tigers have improved in the past year. "I think it is a great confidence builder, but we knew all along we could compete with anybody in the SEC," Bird says. "We are just glad that we are finally getting respect. We deserve it. Everybody has been working hard and we are just showing the world what we can do right now."

Ellis says he likes the 2002-2003 Tigers because of the group's unity and desire to win as a team. Killingsworth, a sophomore forward, contributed a strong game defensively plus six rebounds to go with his 13 points. Staying on the team theme, he says, "It is all about each other."

Daniels, the veteran of many SEC battles, says as much as he enjoys getting the home sweep for his career vs. the Tide, it is too early for much celebrating. "We have to stay focused," he says. "We can't get too high right now. We still have a lot of games left. We still have two tough games on the road against Kentucky and Georgia."

Killingsworth agrees and adds, "This is the toughest conference in college basketball. You are going to win some and lose some. You just have to keep your head."

Auburn will be shooting for its 10th straight victory when the Tigers play Wednesday night at Kentucky. Tipoff is 6 p.m. CST and the game will be televised by Fox Sports South. Auburn's game next Saturday at Georgia will be televised by Jefferson Pilot with a noon CST start.

Tiger Ticket: Bird says the defensive focus by the Tigers was to stop Maurice Williams and Erwin Dudley. However, the player who scored the most points for Bama was junior forward Emmett Thomas. A standout at John Carroll High in Birmingham, he originally signed with South Alabama. He played there for a season and transferred to Bevill State Junior College in Jasper before signing with Bama. He scored 15 of the Tide's 29 first half points and 20 for the game. Thomas says, "Before we came in here, before I even signed, I was told that the seniors had never won here down on the Plains. Growing up an Auburn fan and not able to get a scholarship to come down here, I wanted to come away with a win. Especially for the seniors. I was going out there trying to play hard for the seniors and I think the team was, too. We just couldn't get going."...His parents, Emmett and Donna, are Auburn graduates.

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