Tigers Need Victory Vs. 4th-Ranked Gators

Florida will visit Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum on Saturday afternoon in Auburn's next to last home basketball game.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn basketball coaches and players better hope that Billy Donovan's theory is correct.

The Florida coach says that nothing that happened to Auburn in Baton Rouge on Wednesday night is going to have any effect on Saturday's game at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum when Donovan brings his fourth-ranked Florida Gators to Auburn. The Tigers suffered an embarrassing 94-63 loss at LSU that dropped Auburn to 18-8 overall and 7-6 in the SEC, one game behind Mississippi State for the divisional lead.

Tipoff time for Saturday's contest vs. Florida is 1 p.m. for a game that the Tigers really need to win if they are going to stay in the hunt for the SEC Western Division title, which Coach Cliff Ellis says will be Auburn's focus for its final three games vs. the Gators, Arkansas and Mississippi State. "For us to have a chance to play in Starkville for the West (title), Florida is a vital game," says Ellis, whose team plays the Gators and Arkansas at home before closing the regular season a week from Saturday at Mississippi State.

LSU set an SEC record vs. Auburn by making 16 three-point shots in a game the Bayou Bengals dominated from start to finish on Wednesday night. Donovan said his team had to bounce back from a tough loss at Kentucky earlier this year. "You realize when you are playing an SEC schedule and something like that happens--and certainly we went through it in Lexington where we were completely dominated from the start to finish of the game--you have got to be able to pick yourself up off the mat and come back and play and perform.

"I think with the type of year Auburn has had their kids will do that and respond," Donovan predicts. "We realize that in this game on Saturday what transpired in Baton Rouge will have no bearing on this game at all."

Coach Cliff Ellis hopes his Tigers can end a three-game losing streak in games vs. Florida. Auburn leads the series 86-61.

Auburn's Ellis says he hopes that is the case and notes that his Tigers bounced back from a less than impressive home loss to Mississippi State a week ago last Wednesday and played much better in winning at Ole Miss the following Saturday. "I think it is going to take us playing a great game and great emotion from the crowd," Ellis adds. "It is a great opportunity and a great test for us."

Florida brings a 23-4 overall record into Saturday's game that will be regionally televised by Jefferson-Pilot. Tipoff time is 1 p.m. for the next to last home contest of the season for Auburn, which is 18-8 overall and 7-6 in the SEC. Florida is 11-2 in SEC play and two games behind the Kentucky juggernaut in the SEC East.

Senior Matt Bonner, a 6-10, 237-pound forward from Concord, New Hampshire, leads the Gators in scoring at 14.9 points per game. He is also averaging six rebounds. David Lee, a 6-9, 240 sophomore center from St. Louis, Mo., is the leading rebounder at 7.1 per outing while averaging 10.4 points.

Two other Gators are averaging double figures for points scored. Matt Walsh, a 6-6, 205 freshman forward from Holland, Pa., is hitting for 13.1 per game. Anthony Roberson, a 6-1, 180 freshman guard from Saginaw, Michigan, is averaging 13.2 points and 2.5 rebounds.

Justin Hamilton, a 6-3, 207 senior guard from Sarasota, Fla.,, is averaging 8.6 points and 3.9 assists for a team that is averaging 76.7 points per game and giving up 63.7. Auburn is scoring 72.7 per game and giving up 65.6.

Off the bench Brett Nelson, a 6-4, 205 senior guard from St. Albans, West Virginia, is scoring 6.5 points per game, but is capable of having big scoring performances. Christian Drejer, a 6-9, 210 freshman forward from Dallerup, Denmark, is averaging 3.8 points and 1.8 rebounds in a reserve role. Drejer has been playing well in recent games.

"They have been a team that has been No. 1 in the country," Ellis says. "They are currently No. 4. They are a team that has a lot of weapons. This will be our toughest test since the Kentucky game in Lexington. They are a team that shoots the three extremely well and they have inside play with guys like Lee and Colas (Bonell Colas) and Bonner who can go inside and out. We know we have to play a great basketball game."

Of particular concern for the Tigers is defending a team that has made 244 three-pointers this season at a 39.7 percent clip. Bonner is hitting 48.6 percent of his 109 attempts and Walsh has made 52 of his 118 attempts. "They are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country," Ellis says. "We will definitely have to guard that."

The Auburn coach says another key is to not give the Gators any easy baskets by making mistakes with the ball on offense. "I think the most important thing we have to do is not turn it over," Ellis says. "Florida is going to get you when you turn it over. That is the one thing you can't do."

Florida has won three straight games since falling 66-59 at Tennessee on Feb. 15th. The Gators put a 96-63 whipping on South Carolina last Tuesday.


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