Improving Auburn next test for Cats

February 20, 2004|Larry Vaught

LEXINGTON - Any thoughts that Kentucky might have had about having an easy time at Auburn Saturday disappeared quickly.

The Tigers ended No. 24 LSU's five-game win streak with an 80-68 road victory Wednesday. It was the most points LSU, which leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense, had allowed this season and included a 24-0 second-half run by Auburn.

Auburn (13-9, 4-7 SEC) had lost four of its last five games, but Kentucky coach Tubby Smith noted that the Tigers did return four starters off last year's NCAA Sweet Sixteen team that almost beat eventual national champion Syracuse.

"Having to go to Auburn will be a real test," Smith said. "Auburn obviously is playing well with a good win over a very good LSU team. We will have to get ready for a team that I know likes to do a lot of things and has a lot of athletic players that can do different things."


Auburn has similar strong, physical players to Georgia, which has two wins over No. 9 Kentucky (18-4, 8-3). Marco Killingsworth had 20 points at LSU and center Kyle Davis is second in the conference in blocked shots.

"Our biggest problem this year has been that we've had players hurt and our chemistry has been off," Auburn coach Cliff Ellis said. "Maybe we are finally starting to get things back together. We need a big win to help salvage our season. We don't have a lot of room for error any more."

Auburn certainly impressed LSU coach John Brady.

"Auburn pushed us around and scored 80 points. I think Auburn is quite good and getting better, just like they did last year late in the season," Brady said. "They have talent. They just did what they wanted against us and moved us around."

Smith hopes his team will respond to Auburn's physical style of play.

"We didn't make adjustments from the first Georgia game to the second Georgia game," Smith said. "We have to play with a sense of toughness. You have to screen better, move without the ball better, box out better because we are going against a team that is the leading rebounding team in the league.

"We've got to learn how to keep our composure and play with the right type of patience and poise you need when you play a team that is going to press you like Auburn will."

Smith would be delighted if point guard Cliff Hawkins could run the team the way he did in Wednesday's 73-56 win over Arkansas, a team that split games with Auburn this year. Hawkins led UK with 11 assists and five rebounds. He had only one turnover and took just five shots.

"Cliff was giving up the ball and guys were making shots," Smith said. "He had probably one of his best games of the year. He was in charge. He was calling plays, which I probably should let him do more because he's very capable. He wanted to come back with a good game (after UK's loss at Georgia)."

Hawkins hopes his play as well as that of the team was the start of a late-season run for the Cats.

"This win was just a stepping stone, or I hope it was," Hawkins said. "We've got to play a big game at Auburn and we know we've still got to get better. But this win was a confidence builder that we needed. We did the things we are supposed to do.

"We have not peaked yet. We still want to try and win the rest of our games and get a big run started."

Davis says Auburn knows what to expect from Kentucky.

"They are a little small inside, but their backcourt can carry their frontcourt because they play great defense and score," Davis said. "I admire the way Kentucky gives 110 percent every game. They play with the heart and toughness every team wants."

Smith did like the way his team played against Arkansas, especially after what he felt was a disappointing effort at Georgia.

"I thought we were very solid in just about every area except free throw shooting (13-for-25)," Smith said. "We were looking for one another, moving without the ball and pushing the ball up the court. We did not have many breakdowns defensively. We were attempting to get in position to take charges. That is hopefully a sign of us coming together and playing better."

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