Basketball Tigers Face Explosive Bulldogs

The Auburn Tigers face college basketball's top-ranked RPI team when they travel to Athens to face the Georgia Bulldogs.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers (15-3, 4-1) put the wraps on a brutal two-game stretch on the road when they face the Georgia Bulldogs (11-4, 3-1) Saturday at noon central time inside Stegeman Coliseum. Auburn leads the all-time series with Georgia 83-81 but haven't fared well since the Bulldogs moved to their current home, winning just 10 of 31 contests.

The Bulldogs boast what is perhaps the most dangerous offensive team in the conference. Averaging 81.5 points per contest, compared to Auburn's 61.8 per game, Georgia has players up and down the roster that have the ability to score from anywhere on the court. While names such as 6-7 Chris Daniels (10.1 points, 6.8 rebounds), Steve Thomas (9.6, 7.0) and point guard Rashad Wright (8.3, 2.9, 5.8 assists) have become familiar to SEC basketball fans the last two years, make no mistake about it, this team revolves around the play of forward Jarvis Hayes and shooting guard Ezra Williams.

First and second of the team in scoring, the duo combine to score just over 36 points per game and combine to average just over 10 rebounds. Hayes (6-7, 220, Jr.) and Williams (6-4, 235, Jr.) also create problems because of their size. Both physical players that aren't afraid to take it inside and mix things up, they will be a challenge for Auburn's quicker but smaller defenders Saturday. The Tigers' best, senior Derrick Bird, said the goal this weekend is to make someone else other than Hayes or Williams beat them when the time comes.

"It's going to be very tough," Bird said of stopping Hayes and Williams. "We're just going to have to focus in on whatever Coach (Cliff Ellis) has for the game plan. We have to focus in on trying to stop them and let the other three players that are on the court with them do something to try to beat us. We're really focusing on them two because they are the keys to their offense. If we can focus in on stopping them, it's going to be a tough task, but I think we can do it. We have to make them pass the ball more and let somebody else try to beat us. That's what we're going to try to do."

It's not over when Georgia's starting five comes off the floor either. A strong bench, led by 6-8, 240 forward Jonas Hayes, the brother of Jarvis, and 6-7, 220 Damien Wilkins, gives Coach Jim Harrick the luxury of having two experienced and talented players coming off the bench at any time. Averaging 15 points and almost nine rebounds between them while each averages just over 23 minutes of playing time per game, the duo gives Georgia perhaps the best first seven in the league Ellis said.

"Wilkins had a great ACC freshman year," Ellis said of Wilkins first season at N.C. State before he transferred to Georgia. "You've got guys like that coming off the bench with Jonas Hayes. This is just a tremendous basketball team. We've got to go in and play a great basketball game at a place where Georgia is playing extremely well. Without a doubt I think it's the best team we have played thus far."

Auburn comes into Saturday's game hoping to erase the memories of Wednesday's 67-51 loss to #8 Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Despite turning the ball over almost constantly in the face of the Wildcat's tremendous pressure, Auburn had the lead with 12:19 to play before Kentucky went on an 18-3 run to put the game away. Still in first place in the SEC's Western Division after their first loss in league play, Bird said this team is still confident that they are on the right track as they head to Georgia.

"Everybody's confidence is right back where it was," Bird noted. "We're still in first place in the conference. We still have a lot of things going for us. We know we played a good defensive game and we know we're going to come back Saturday and perform well and concentrate on the little things that we didn't do against Kentucky. We've got our confidence there already."

The Tigers hope to rally around the play of forwards Marquis Daniels and Marco Killingsworth on the way to victory in Athens. While much of the talk late in the week has been about the duo of Hayes and Williams, Auburn's own tandem hasn't been too shabby this season. The current SEC Player of the Week, Daniels is averaging 18.6 points and 7 rebounds per game and also leads Auburn is assists at 3.8 per contest. Killingsworth, coming off a solid effort at Kentucky when he scored 19 points and pulled down 7 rebounds, is averaging 15.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and has steadily improved in each conference game this season.

If Auburn gets those numbers out of Daniels and Killingsworth Saturday, it should be good news for the Tigers as they head home to begin a three-game home stand when they host Tennessee Feb. 1 at 3 p.m.

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