At 16-5 overall and 5-3 in conference play, the Tigers can take another big step towards an NCAA Tournament berth with a win over John Brady's club. Meanwhile, LSU hopes to avoid falling deeper into the cellar of the division by picking up its first road win of the season in a place in which the Bayou Bengals have had success in the past.
After starting the season 12-2, including a win over then top-ranked Arizona in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the Tigers have won just once in their last six games. That came in their last outing when they stopped South Carolina 71-58 behind the play of forward Ronald Dupree and junior college transfer big man Jaime Lloreda. One of the best players in the league, Dupree had 17 points and 10 rebounds while Lloreda, the national player of the year last year in the juco ranks, contributed 14 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
Averaging 15.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game this season, the 6-7 Dupree is similar to Auburn's Marquis Daniels in the way he plays. Capable of taking a defender to the hole off the dribble or pulling up from the outside and draining a jumper, he creates mismatch problems for almost anyone that guards him. For Auburn that means Derrick Bird once again draws a tough assignment. The designated stopper for Coach Cliff Ellis, Bird says this will be a very challenging game for him and his teammates playing an offensive club like LSU.
"Dupree is an all-around athlete," Bird notes. "He can shoot the ball and drives well and he's strong. We're going to have to watch him on film and try to pick up some little tendencies he does and then go out there and try my best to contain him.
"As a team LSU is coming off a real big win like ourselves. It's going to be a real big battle and it will come down to who wants it the most. Our confidence is up and we're going to go into this game well prepared like we have been all year."
Auburn comes in after dropping Ole Miss 60-57 Wednesday night to end a three-game losing streak. Bird says much of the credit for the win goes to center Kyle Davis. With his mother in a hospital bed back home in Georgia, Davis came out and played the best game of his season with 14 points and 10 rebounds. He also broke Mamadou N'Diaye's Auburn career record for blocked shots in the game, setting the mark with 244 blocks in just his third season. Bird says the spirit Davis had Wednesday night showed this team something about fighting through adversity.
"It was good just to see him come out and play," Bird says. "We didn't know he was going to play that good. It was just an inspiration to see him come back. His mom wanted him to come back and play. It felt good and that helped our spirits as well as his. Kyle is a tough guy. He came back last year with an elbow injury and helped us beat Alabama. This game was kind of the same thing. He played his heart out and gave us inspiration. We're a team that is sticking together this year. That is going to help us out."
Beginning the second half of the SEC season Saturday, Auburn is in a position to challenge for its first division title since the 1998-99 season when the Tigers earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With challenging road games remaining at Alabama Wednesday night and trips to Ole Miss, LSU and Mississippi State to follow later in the season, Bird says it's a big game for his team Saturday because of the importance of winning at home.
"It's very important," Bird says of Saturday. "When you go on the road anything can happen. This is almost a must win like Ole Miss was. We're just going to go into this game and focus on playing hard and playing it like it's our last game. We have to get this win and protect our home court."
Tip-off for Saturday's game is at 3 p.m. and it is not televised. After Saturday's game, the Tigers have a week break for before they travel across the state to face the struggling Alabama Crimson Tide.