Saturday, February 21, 2004

Auburn's Ellis knows UK still team to beat


Tigers coming off upset of No.24 LSU

The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Kentucky may not be in the midst of an undefeated run through the Southeastern Conference like last season, but don't try convincing Auburn basketball coach Cliff Ellis that this season's Wildcats are more vulnerable.

"Not many people have gotten to them," said Ellis, whose Tigers will host No. 9 Kentucky today. "They are 8-3 (in the SEC) and 18-4 . . . They are still, in my opinion, the premiere team in our conference and the country."

Ellis is optimistic for his team - even though four of the last six regular-season games for Auburn (13-9, 4-7) are against teams in this week's AP rankings. The Tigers started that stretch successfully, winning 80-68 at No. 24 Louisiana State on Wednesday. Ian Young scored a career-high 21 points off the bench, while leading scorer Marco Killingsworth added 20 points. It was Auburn's first road win against a ranked team since 2000.

Auburn hasn't won consecutive games against ranked teams since the 1986 NCAA Tournament, when the Tigers beat St. John's and UNLV.

"Our backs are to the wall," Ellis said. "If we are going to get back in the thing, we need to win against ranked opponents."

Kentucky, which leads the SEC East division but trails overall league leader Mississippi State by two games, also is coming off one of its more impressive victories of the season. The Wildcats never trailed Wednesday in a 73-56 win over visiting Arkansas, and the team posted its largest winning margin in SEC play this season. Point guard Cliff Hawkins had a career-high 11 assists and a career-low zero turnovers.

Hawkins' ballhandling will be key against an Auburn team that likes to press and trap, Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. Smith compared Auburn's defense to that of Georgia, a team that has beaten Kentucky twice this season.

"Coach Ellis' teams have always been excellent rebounding teams, very solid defensive teams," Smith said. "They will trap you in the full court, and that's something we need to handle to get to Auburn."

As with much of the season, the Wildcats are facing an opponent with a bigger and taller front line. Auburn's Kyle Davis, a 6-10 senior, leads the SEC with an average of 2.9 blocked shots per game.

"Good shot blockers have given us trouble all year because we're not that tall," Smith said. "We need to find ways to pull (Davis) away from the basket, but then again, he's better when he's away from the basket because he blocks more shots coming off his man to help out. This front line is as mobile as any front line we've faced this season. It's not just that they're big. They're big, fast and athletic."

Daniels, Kentucky's tallest starter at 6-8, said he won't be intimidated by Davis. "We'll just go in there with the same attitude and try to do the things that we've been doing all season," he said.

Daniels is fourth in the SEC in field-goal shooting at 57.4 percent, behind league-leading Killingsworth (62.3).

Smith said he didn't know if Kentucky's leading scorer, Gerald Fitch, would start. Fitch missed three games with a sprained ligament in his right (shooting) hand before returning in a reserve role against Arkansas. Antwain Barbour has started the last four games.

No. 9 UK at Auburn

Tipoff: 2 p.m. today, Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum (10,500), Auburn, Ala.

Records: UK 18-4 (8-3 SEC), Auburn 13-9 (4-7).

Radio: WSAI-AM (1530).

TV: Ch. 25.

Series: UK leads 77-17.

Line: UK by 3.

KENTUCKY

PlayerYr.Ht.PPG
Kelenna AzubuikeSo.6-510.5
Chuck HayesJr.6-611.1
Erik DanielsSr.6-815.0
Antwain BarbourSr.6-19.2
Cliff HawkinsSr.6-19.2
Coach: Tubby Smith (182-51, seventh season; 306-113 overall).

AUBURN

PlayerYr.Ht.PPG
Quinnel BrownJr.6-67.1
Marco KillingsworthJr.6-714.3
Kyle DavisSr.6-107.3
Nathan WatsonJr.6-38.5
Lewis MonroeJr.6-55.1
Coach: Cliff Ellis (185-119, 10th season; 533-331 overall).




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