Georgia and Auburn meet for last place in SEC

ATHENS – Southeastern Conference officials are trumpeting today as the inaugural SEC East-West Challenge. It will be the first time in the league's history that every team has been in action against an interdivisional opponent on the same day.

"Divisional supremacy will be at stake," reads a promotional statement from the conference's office in Birmingham.

But no supremacy of any kind will be on the line in Stegeman Coliseum, which hosts the Challenge's Forgotten Game at 4 p.m. Thoughts of supremacy are long gone for Georgia and Auburn. Even pride is a fleeting notion for the rebuilding clubs these days. The Bulldogs and Tigers play today for dignity and the right not to be remembered as the league's worst team in recent memory.

"We're in very similar situations," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "You're going to look out there and not see a lot of size or a lot of talent, but you're going to see two teams that want to win as bad as anybody else and will try to compete hard."

Georgia and Auburn have combined to win 19 games overall and just four in the conference. The coaches are saying the right things, but the facts tell an irrefutable story.

"Coach Lebo has done a tremendous job of finding a way for them to compete through some deficits in size, but a couple things they do have, they are highly athletic and they are difficult to guard because they have virtually five guards on the floor," Georgia coach Dennis Felton said. "That's the big challenge for anybody going into the game to defend them."

Most teams in the league have handled that challenge well. The Tigers are seventh in the SEC in scoring (72.7 ppg) and next-to-last in scoring margin (minus-2.2 ppg).

Lebo countered by praising the Bulldogs' tenacious defense.

"Coach Felton has done an excellent job, I think, with getting them to buy into their defensive philosophy," he said. "You have to prepare for them on the offensive end and worry about how they defend because they are an excellent defensive team. I think they have one of the best defenses in the league."

Again, penetrating Georgia's defenses is a task the rest of the league has faced bravely. Georgia is ninth in the league in scoring defense (68.5 ppg) and dead last in scoring margin (minus-6.9 ppg).

Lebo suggests that Georgia has a slight advantage today because of its home-court advantage, but the Tigers probably should be considered favorites in this battle of mites. Of the combined four conference wins, Auburn owns three of them. The Tigers have won on the road, something Georgia hasn't done all year, and they beat Mississippi State by 14 points.

The Bulldogs have no such points of pride. They have lost seven straight and are still seeking their second win since Dec. 28. Georgia is ranked a staggering 199th in the RPI, behind UT-San Antonio, UC-Irvine, Fairleigh Dickinson and Gardner-Webb, among others. The Tigers are the second-lowest SEC team in the RPI but still are ranked 69 spots ahead of Georgia.

"It's a hard situation for both of us as coaches and hard for the kids, but his kids have been resilient and bought in and mine have too," Lebo said.

Georgia still believes it has a win or two in it, starting center Dave Bliss said.

"We believe we can compete in the rest of our games so we're definitely seeking some wins," he said. "Any team we can beat, that's a plus for us."

AUBURN at GEORGIA

Today, 4 p.m., Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga.

Broadcast: 106.1-FM

Records/rankings: Georgia 7-15 (1-10 SEC), Auburn 12-12 (2-8 SEC)

About Georgia: The Bulldogs are hopeful guard Channing Toney can return today from a strained hip flexor. The injury kept him out of Wednesday night's 59-42 loss to Clemson. With fellow starter and leading scorer Levi Stukes still shelved due to a foot injury, the Bulldogs desperately need Toney's 10.6 points per game back in the lineup. … Walk-on guards Jay McAuley and Kevin Brophy started and combined to play 77 minutes against Clemson. They totaled just 11 points, though, as Georgia was held to its lowest output of the season.

About Auburn: Today's game will be the first time first-year Auburn coach Jeff Lebo has faced the Bulldogs as a head coach. It also will be the first time Lebo and Dennis Felton have coached against each other. … Auburn is second in the SEC with 580 3-point attempts, but it ranks just seventh in accuracy (35.3 percent). Only Vanderbilt has taken more 3-point attempts (611). … Freshman guard Toney Douglas, a Georgia native, leads the Tigers and is third in the SEC with 17.4 points per game.

Scouting report: Auburn's biggest disadvantage against most teams is its lack of size. The tallest player in the Tigers' regular rotation is the 6-foot-6 Quinnel Brown. However, that won't be as big a deal against Georgia, which has regulars taller than that but doesn't play like a big team. The Tigers will have a considerable advantage in athleticism. The Bulldogs' only hope is that Auburn's perimeter shooting is off, and that's a possibility Toney was 1-for-13 and second-leading scorer Ian Young was 0-for-7 in a 67-43 loss to Vanderbilt on Wednesday.

Next: Georgia vs. Mississippi State, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.; Auburn at Kentucky, Wednesday, 7 p.m.


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