Senior Night An Important Night For AU Veterans

Marquis Daniels and Derrick Bird talk about the importance of their final home basketball game.

Auburn, Ala.--Marquis Daniels and Derrick Bird both sound very certain that they want to go out winners on Senior Night at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

Daniels, Bird and a pair of walk-ons, Donny Calton and Jonathan Lewis, will be honored in pre-game ceremonies before Auburn's home finale vs. the Arkansas Razorbacks. All four seniors are on schedule to graduate this year.

Marquis Daniels

Tipoff for Wednesday's game is set for 7 p.m. It is a must win game for the Tigers to stay in the race for the SEC West title.

"It's all really up to us," Daniels says, noting the Tigers control their own destiny. "I don't want to put any pressure on our guys, but I think they all know it is serious for me and for Derrick as well."

Auburn brings an 18-9 overall record and a 7-7 SEC mark into Wednesday's contest. Arkansas is 9-16 overall and 4-10 in the SEC, including a 52-37 loss to Auburn at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville on Jan. 11th.

The Tigers missed a golden opportunity last Saturday to move back into first place in the SEC West as they fell 73-70 to fourth-ranked Florida while Mississippi State was upset 53-51 at Arkansas. The Bulldogs, who are 8-6 in the SEC, face a tough road test at Tennessee on Wednesday night. If Auburn can knock off the Razorbacks, there will be a good chance that Saturday's road trip to Mississippi State will be for the divisional title and a certain berth in the NCAA Tournament.

After being picked by many to finish last in the SEC West this season, Daniels says finishing as the divisional champ would be special. "It is big to even be in the situation where we are at right now," he says. "If we beat a good team to qualify as one of the top 64 teams in the NCAA that would be even better. If we get in we feel like we can shock a lot of people."

Derrick Bird

Bird, who transferred to Auburn two years ago from a powerhouse juco team (Schoolcraft in Michigan), says that the 2002-2003 Tigers will be remembered by how they finish this season. "The last two games are very important. The guys know that. Everybody knows that. We are going to come in and focus more than ever. We are going to come in here with Coach's game plan and execute."

Bird, who broke out of a scoring slump with 21 points vs. Florida, is averaging 9.7 points per game while Daniels is averaging 18.4 to lead the Tigers. They were part of a strong defensive effort that limited Arkansas to its lowest scoring total in 37 years in the first matchup this season.

Daniels says that it could be another defensive battle in the rematch. "Anytime you play Arkansas you usually see a lot of hands on defense. You have to be tough with the ball to keep your turnovers down. The last time we played I think one team had 23 and there were 24 turnovers for the other team. We are going to focus on keeping our turnover count down and try to get good shots. I think our rebounding is going to play a big part, too."

Bird says the team goal going back to preseason was to win the SEC West. "If we win the West that takes care of the rest. We are in it still. We just have got to get these two games and if we win those we will be in the (NCAA) Tournament. We don't want to look ahead. We have to focus on Arkansas. That is the main thing."

Auburn coach Cliff Ellis says that Daniels and Bird have been his strongest senior leaders since Bryant Smith played for the Tigers from 1996-99. "When I look at this group, I think they are the epitome of the college student-athlete," Ellis says. "They are all getting their degrees. There will be four people who will walk out on that court--Jonathan Lewis, Donny Calton, Derrick Bird and Marquis Daniels. They have handled themselves on the court in a tremendous way. Going into Wednesday night's game, they are giving us a chance to play for the championship. At the same time they have taken care of their work academically. Too often that is not recognized, but it can be recognized on a Senior Day."

Auburn's Senior Day opponent has won its past two games. The Razorbacks surprised Vandy 60-50 in Nashville and then shocked Mississippi State 53-51 in Fayetteville.

Jonathan Modica, a 6-4, 198 freshman guard, leads the Razorbacks in scoring at 12 points per game. Another freshman guard, 6-1, 171 Eric Ferguson, is averaging 11.4 points per game.

The Razorbacks have more experience inside. Dionisio Gomez, a 6-8, 218 senior forward is averaging 8.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Larry Satchell, a 6-9, 217 senior, is averaging 3.1 points and 3.6 rebounds and the other starter, 6-8, 221 freshman Rashard Sullivan, is scoring 2.2 per game with 2.7 rebounds.

The top reserve, 6-3, 171 freshman guard Kendrick Davis, is averaging 9.9 points for first-year head coach Stan Heath.

With a victory, the Tigers can sweep the Razorbacks for the first time since the 1992-93 season.

Tiger Ticket Extra: Auburn sophomore forward Brandon Robinson is still slowed by a sprained ankle. He is questionable for the Arkansas game.

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