March 3, 2009
The Auburn men''s basketball team has moved into second place in the Southeastern Conference Western Division standings.
With two games left in the regular season, the Tigers still have to look over their shoulder at the rival Alabama Crimson Tide.
Alabama (16-12, 6-8 SEC) is two games behind Auburn (19-10, 8-6) in the standings, which makes their game at 8 tonight in Tuscaloosa, Ala., important.
The Tigers defeated the Tide 85-71 in the last meeting, but Auburn coach Jeff Lebo believes Alabama is playing better after having won three straight games.
"Alabama is playing the best they''ve played all year," Lebo said. "That will make for a tough environment to play in."
Alabama defeated Mississippi State 87-85 in double overtime and followed that up by beating Arkansas (88-67) and Ole Miss (90-69).
Alabama interim coach Philip Pearson calls the recent success "satisfying and gratifying," but he doesn''t want his squad to lose focus and become complacent.
"We don''t want to let up with our approach," Pearson said. "We''ve had some issues (with Mark Gottfried''s resignation) earlier in the season, but it''s not something we discussed with the team. We''ve just intensified what we said we were going to do and the players responded in a nice way. I hope they continue to do so."
Senior Alonzo Gee (14.9 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game) leads the Crimson Tide.
Even when Gee got into foul trouble against Ole Miss on Saturday, Pearson was pleased to see other players take up some slack.
"We''ve played very unselfishly," Pearson said. "We''ve had some foul issues, but Andrew Steele stepped up and did a lot of little things like rebound the basketball and making the extra pass. Anthony Brock made some shots for us. You''ve had some guys step up when they''ve had the opportunity."
Pearson knows it is going to take a similar effort if Alabama is to beat Auburn.
The Tigers can strike from anywhere on the court, with Dwayne Reed (13.2 ppg.), Korvotney Barber (12.7 ppg.), and Tay Waller (12.6 ppg.).
When considering how to play their biggest rival, the Crimson Tide look down the road at another SEC opponent to get a good scouting report.
"They are a little bit similar to Mississippi State with the undersized (lineup) with four perimeter players and the one post player," Pearson said. "It provides some defensive issues that you''ve got to address. They give you a lot of things to think about and prepare for."