Led by the strong play of forward Ronald Dupree, who averages 16 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, Coach John Brady's Bengal Tigers have won three of their last five games with the only losses coming at Auburn on Feb. 8 and at Kentucky on Feb. 15. The Auburn loss came on a last-second three-point shot by Nathan Watson while the streaking Wildcats beat LSU 68-57. During that stretch LSU has beaten South Carolina (71-58), Vanderbilt (79-60) and Arkansas (75-56)--all at home. In the win over Arkansas the Tigers led 49-19 at the break on the way to the easy win.
"They are a talented team," Coach Cliff Ellis said of LSU. "We know it's going to be a tough battle and we know we'll have to play a great game. They've got a senior laden team that has a group of guys that have played well in the SEC. Ron Dupree, Torris Bright and Collis Temple are all 1,000 point scorers. It's a talented team and we'll have to go into a place where Arizona struggled. We'll have to play a great game. LSU will be tough in Baton Rouge."
A four-year starter for LSU, Bright averages 10.3 points and 4.9 assists per game and is the career leader in three-point baskets for the Bengal Tigers. Temple is LSU's bomber from the perimeter, averaging 10 points per game and 81 percent from the free-throw line. Although he's 6-7, 218, he is a guard who creates a tough matchup for opponents. In the middle, junior college transfer Jaime Lloreda is having a strong first year in the SEC, averaging 12.1 points and 8.6 rebounds, which is second in the league. Rounding out the starting five for LSU is sophomore Xavier Whipple, who has started the last five games and is averaging just 1.8 points and 1.1 assists per game.
A key for Auburn will be the health of sophomore forward Brandon Robinson. Although the Tigers escaped with a win against Ole Miss despite foul trouble by Marco Killingsworth, Robinson's availability would free Ellis to keep leading scorer Marquis Daniels where he's most comfortable. While he's played point guard, shooting guard, power forward and even center in his four seasons on the Plains, Daniels is the most dangerous to opponents from his small forward position because of his ability to play both inside and outside.
"I met with our trainer and he said he (Robinson) was working hard at it and his ankle was getting a lot better," Ellis says.
Only the third player in SEC history to record 1,300 points, 550 rebounds, 250 assists and 190 steals in a career, Daniels is averaging 19.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.4 steals and is shooting 55 percent from the floor on the year. His scoring average is the most for an Auburn player since Wesley Person averaged 22.2 points per game in the 1994 season. Teammate Aaron Swinson averaged 20.7 points that same season.
The play of Killingsworth was a major factor in Auburn's third road win of the season. Averaging less than eight points per game in the five games leading up to Saturday's contest, Killingsworth benefitted from some early outside shooting to score 19 points in just 17 minutes against the Rebels to pick up the slack behind Daniels. Ellis said his continued involvement in the offense is key if the Tigers hope to go into a tough environment and pull out a win Wednesday night.
After shooting just 33.3 percent from the field against Mississippi State last week, Auburn improved that dramatically against Ole Miss thanks to the play of guards Derrick Bird, Nathan Watson and Lewis Monroe. Making just 2-12 shots against the Bulldogs, the trio combined for 21 points on 7-10 shooting against the Rebels to open up the inside play for Killingsworth to torch the Rebels. If Auburn is able to hit some early outside shots against LSU, the Tigers should have a chance to get out of Cajun Country with their fourth SEC road win of the season and move into solid contention for a NCAA bid and the SEC West title.
Tip off for Wednesday's game is scheduled for 7 p.m. CST. Auburn returns to action Saturday at 1 p.m. when they play the #4 Florida Gators in the next-to-last home game of the 2002-03 season.