Auburn won the first meeting this season vs. the Tide, taking a 77-68 victory on Jan. 18th at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. Since then, the formerly No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide has hit the skids with just one win in its next five games. At 13-7 overall but just 3-6 in Southeastern Conference play, one more loss will likely bury the Tide in such a deep hole that Coach Mark Gottfried's team will have to win the SEC Tournament March 13th-16th in New Orleans to get out of the pit and into the NCAAs.
Auburn, meanwhile, is very much in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth with its 6-3 conference mark and 17-5 overall record. Even though Alabama has lost two straight games, Auburn coach Cliff Ellis says he is expecting a major challenge on Saturday night. "Road wins in this league are at a premium," he notes.
Coach Cliff Ellis and the Tigers have a one-game lead over Mississippi State in the SEC West.
Auburn has won seven of the last 10 games in the series vs. the Tide, but hasn't won in Tuscaloosa since 1999. The Tigers fell there 73-68 last year, 72-69 in overtime the year before that and 68-64 in 2000.
"We are excited about this weekend," says Tide coach Mark Gottfried, who is 3-8 all-time in games vs. the Tigers. "Auburn is a very good team and in first place in the West so our guys are looking forward to it. It's been a good week. We had some time to rest this week and we've had some good work as well. Both teams should be fresh and ready to go come Saturday."
Sophomore guard Maurice Williams leads the Tide in scoring. He is averaging 15.1 points, 4.1 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. The 6-1, 195-pounder has put up 258 shots this season, but has made just 98 for a 38.0 percentage. As a team the Tide is shooting just 40.4 percent, which has been its major weakness.
There is little weak about senior power forward Erwin Dudley, a 6-8, 260-pound senior, who is averaging 14.5 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Dudley and Williams will probably be the focus of the Auburn defense, but Ellis says that Alabama has other players who can score. In the game at Auburn, 6-4, 205 junior forward Emmett Thomas had a big offensive game. He is averaging 6.8 points and 2.3 rebounds, but against the Tigers, the team he grew up wanting to play for, he scored 20 points as he hit 8-11 field goals.
Kenny Walker, a 6-9, 220 senior center, is averaging 10.9 points per game and 5.9 rebounds. Terrance Meade, a 6-2, 190 senior guard, rounds out the starting lineup with averages of 4.1 points and 2.7 rebounds.
Auburn features four starters scoring in double figures led by senior forward Marquis Daniels at 18.4 points per game with 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Sophomore forward Marco Killingsworth is scoring 14.2 points and pulling in 6.8 rebounds. Brandon Robinson, another sophomore forward, is averaging 11 points and 5.2 rebounds. Senior guard Derrick Bird is scoring 10.1 per outing and sophomore point guard Lewis Monroe is averaging 5.9 points, 3.5 assists and 2.5 rebounds.
The Tigers are a much better shooting team than the Tide. Auburn is hitting 49.1 percent of its field goals, nine percentage points better than Bama. Auburn is also shooting better from three-point range at 35.2 percent compared to 29.9 percent for Bama. The Tide is better at the free throw line (70.8 percent to 65.3 percent), but Auburn has been a better rebounding team at plus 5.5 per game to the Tide's plus 3.9 rebound margin.
Perhaps the biggest statistic for this game is Alabama's success on its homecourt, which is sold out for the rivalry game on Saturday night. (Pay per view TV coverage is available on in-state cable systems.) The Tide didn't lose at home last season and had a 28-game homecourt winning streak going until Kentucky ended that on Jan. 25th. "We know it is a tough," Ellis says. "Anytime you go into Tuscaloosa it is always a tough battle, but our team has always gone in and played well.
Kyle Davis will come off the bench for the Tigers. The Auburn team took a break from practice on Tuesday to travel to Blakely, Ga., to attend the funeral of Cradell Davis, the Auburn center's mother. The junior is Auburn's all-time leader in blocked shots.
"We have been focusing this week on trying to get our game a little bit more up-tempo," Ellis adds. "A lot of teams have been controlling the tempo on us. When we can get the game in the 70s, it helps our basketball team. Teams in our league are working to control the tempo, and we have been working to get that tempo up a little because that is when we seem to play better.
"Alabama is a very good basketball team, and we are going to have to play well," Ellis adds. "They have some seniors who have been around a long time. They are very good with Dudley, Walker and Meade and there are some heralded players to go along with that. We know we have to play our best in Tuscaloosa."
(Inside the Auburn Tigers will have game coverage from Tuscaloosa on Saturday night.)