However, Auburn has come through with a 2-2 split on the road so far and that is why the Tigers currently lead the SEC West with a 4-2 mark. Now it is time for Coach Cliff Ellis' Tigers to see if they can make an even stronger statement about being the league's surprise team as they prepare for a three-game homestand. First up is a 3 p.m. Saturday tipoff vs. the Tennessee Volunteers.
Coach Cliff Ellis
"I think this team is showing a lot of poise for having a lot of young players," Ellis tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I think the players are really stepping up to another level. We have been getting great leadership out of Marquis Daniels and Derrick Bird.
"What has pleased me is how last year's freshman class has stepped up to another level," Ellis adds. "In particular, Killingsworth (sophomore forward Marco Killingsworth), Robinson (sophomore forward Brandon Robinson), Monroe (sophomore point guard Lewis Monroe) and Watson (sophomore shooting guard Nathan Watson). Those guys right there have really stepped their play up and they are playing a lot better."
Auburn is 15-4 overall and for the first time this year suffered back-to-back losses in losing road games at nationally-ranked Kentucky last Wednesday and at nationally ranked Georgia on Saturday. Ellis says that although the Tigers didn't play one of their better games at Kentucky, he is still pleased with what he is seeing from his group that came up just short in a well played 85-79 setback in Athens, Ga.
Derrick Bird has taken a leadership role as a senior guard.
"I think that our team really, overall, is doing a good job in spite of the fact that we dropped a couple of games," Ellis says. "A lot of people are going to do that going in to Kentucky and Georgia. I think that we knew we had a chance in those games. The shot was a little more difficult at Kentucky, but inside the 10-minute mark we were in the game and it was a two-point game inside a minute and a half at Georgia and their guys made some real good plays."
Following a Saturday home game vs. Tennessee, the Tigers will take on the Ole Miss Rebels, a team that is playing strong basketball. That game will tipoff at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 5th. The homestand concludes with a 3 p.m. game against an LSU team that showed its ability with a pre-conference win over the Arizona Wildcats, who were ranked No. 1 nationally going into the game.
Tiger Ticket Extra: While the men's team is trying to get back into the NCAA field after being absent since defeating Creighton and losing to Iowa State to close the 1999-2000 season, the women's team took a giant step forward towards getting back into the NCAA Tournament scene. In a game that wasn't as close as the blowout score would indicate, Auburn spindled, folded and mutilated what was the seventh-ranked team in the nation during a 64-36 blowout of Arkansas on Sunday. That improved Coach Joe Ciampi's team to 12-6 overall and 2-3 in the SEC with 17th-ranked Vandy coming to Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum for a 7 p.m. game on Thursday. Newcomer Louise Emeagi, a 6-1 sophomore guard from Melbourne, Australia, contributed to the victory with 13 points off the bench in her second Auburn game. Auburn had planned to redshirt her, but changed plans when the team needed help at guard. "She is a wing player that can play the one, two or the three," Ciampi says. "She handles it well and she slashes to the basket. She is a scorer, she creates scoring opportunities for herself. Rather than a shooter, she is a scorer. Creativity, dribble-drives and little things like that describe her. An all-out hustle and an all-out love for the game, as well. She showed her passion for the game on Sunday." Vandy is 12-6 overall and 2-3 in the SEC. Auburn's last trip to the NCAA Tournament was the same as the men's. The Tigers edged Southwest Missouri State 78-74 and lost to Penn State 75-69 in March 2000.