Senior Looks To Lead Auburn Vs. Kentucky

Marquis Daniels and the basketball Tigers face a major challenge on their road trip to Kentucky.

Auburn, Ala.--Marquis Daniels has just about seen it all when it comes to SEC basketball. Wednesday night when the Tigers take on a hot Kentucky team at Rupp Arena, the senior swingman for the Auburn Tigers isn't going to have to do it all for Auburn to have a chance to upset the eighth-ranked Wildcats, but a strong performance similar to the one on his last road trip would help.

Auburn is 2-0 on the road in the SEC this year. In Auburn's last road game, Daniels contributed 31 points as Auburn knocked off the South Carolina Gamecocks a week ago. The challenge is even greater with a Kentucky team waiting on the 15-2 Tigers with homecourt advantage and its usual group of Bluegrass Bluechippers.

"Right now, we are very confident that we can play with anybody in the nation," says Daniels, a 6-6, 200-pounder who is averaging 19.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. "We are just going to have to go in there and play our basketball game. You know, try to feed off their crowd. It's a tough place to play there. I have played there once. I think the younger guys, they better feed off of me and Derrick's (senior guard Derrick Bird) play. We just have to be leaders on the court and they will just follow behind us."

Kentucky, Auburn (4-0) and Florida (4-0) are the only teams still unbeaten in SEC play. The Wildcats are 13-3 overall and 3-0 in the conference after taking the weekend off from league action to pound Notre Dame last Saturday.

Commenting on the Wildcats, Daniels says, "They apply a lot of pressure to our guards. We are going to have to keep our turnover count down low. We have to play well on the inside. We just have to stay focused and play a complete game once we go up there."

Daniels says he believes his Tigers, who have won nine straight games, will bring plenty of momentum into Rupp Arena for the 6 p.m. CST game that will be televised by Fox Sports South. "We are doing real good right now," he says. "We just came off a big win against Alabama. We just have to stay focused. A lot of the guys are real hungry for more games. I think we are going to be OK if we just stay focused and concentrate on the things we need to do."

Daniels plays defense against Vanderbilt.

Daniels, who was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday, says his Tigers are far from a finished product. "We still have a lot left to go," he says. "We still have areas we have to improve in--rebounding and continuing to keep our turnover count down low. If we continue to do those things, we will be a lot better ball club."

The Tigers are the surprise team of the first quarter of the SEC race, but Daniels says the players themselves expected to be strong this year after being plagued by injuries and player defections a season earlier. A relatively young team, with seniors Bird and Daniels leading the way, Auburn has improved in almost every area since last season.

"I think it goes back to our offseason workout," Daniels says. "We had a great workout the times we were together. Everyone was lifting together, everyone stayed together. Last year, everyone was off to theirselves, and this year we were more together as a unit."

A good preseason in the fall set the stage for a strong start. Auburn's last loss came on Dec. 17th to Western Michigan. The Wildcats are favored to end that winning streak on Wednesday night at Rupp Arena. "It's like an NBA arena, almost," Daniels says of the Wildcats' home court. "Their fans are just a sea of blue. We have just got to try to use their energy to boost us up and not let the big atmosphere get them out. I think our guys will do a good job. Hopefully, they will."

Daniels says the Tigers have played with confidence going back to the exhibition games. "We were feeling like that all season," he notes. "We worked real hard, and we were like, 'We're not going to be doing this for nothing.' And I think guys really took heed to it and I was kind of feeding it to them."

Kentucky has had its way with the Tigers in games at Rupp Arena, holding a 19-2 edge there. The Wildcats have won two straight games from the Tigers including a 69-62 decision in the last matchup exactly one year ago in Auburn.

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