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SEC Notebook

January 21, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

SEC Notebook

by Rainer Sabin

In a conference where Alabama was supposed to be at the head of the class, a school just a couple hours down the road is showing that it has upward mobility. Auburn, which sported a dismal 12-16 record last season, was predicted to finish near the bottom of the SEC West standings this year, and played a rather suspect non-conference schedule, now finds itself on top of the league.

The Tigers (15-2) improved to 4-0 in the SEC after beating archrival No. 10 Alabama 77-68 in Auburn Saturday. Three Tigers scored 13 points, including senior point guard Marquis Daniels, who is emerging as one of the conference’s most lethal offensive threats. “I would say that Marquis Daniels is as good a player as any player that we have faced,” Alabama (12-3, 2-2 SEC) coach Mark Gottfried said. “You always have to be aware of where he is on the court.”

Daniels, who averages 19.1 points per game, has emerged as a leader on a team that features several talented players, including senior guard Derrick Bird and sophomore forward Marco Killingsworth. Gottfried was impressed with the Tigers who helped hand the Crimson Tide its second loss in SEC play.

“Auburn is a legitimately good team,” Gottfried said. “They are playing with a lot of confidence right now. Auburn is playing very good defense. I would say that they are as good on defense as anyone that we have played. We have played some good teams this year, teams that were ranked pretty high, and Auburn is every bit as good if not better than all those teams.”

Auburn will look to continue its strong start this week against Kentucky and Georgia, while Alabama, which shot just 39.7 percent against the Tigers, will try to correct its offensive deficiencies against Ole Miss and the Wildcats.

Florida Survives Scare

Upsets were aplenty Saturday, and Florida (15-2, 4-0 SEC) coach Billy Donovan had heard about them all. Fortunately, for the No. 6 Gators, they did not fall victim to one. Duke, Missouri, Notre Dame, Alabama, and Connecticut all lost. However, Florida won – outlasting South Carolina 77-75.

The Gators, which had welcomed back freshman Christian Drejer Wednesday after the Danish sensation recovered from an ankle injury and subsequent infection, were pushed to the limit Saturday by the Gamecocks (7-7, 1-3 SEC). Nevertheless, freshman guard Matt Walsh scored 17 points and senior forward Matt Bonner added 19 in the win, as Florida survived the rowdy crowd at the new Carolina Center to eke out a victory that was ensured after South Carolina forward Carlos Powell missed a 30-footshot at the buzzer.

Kentucky Continues to Shine

If Kentucky (13-3, 3-0) is not the best team in the league, then it can be classified as good and getting better. The Wildcats manhandled No. 9 Notre Dame Saturday, and, in the process, showed that its frontcourt players can be a force to contend with inside the paint. Sophomore forward Chuck Hayes scored 17 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, while senior forward Marquis Estill added 18 in the victory.

Kentucky came out firing from the outset, and quickly dismantled the Irish’s 2-3 zone, as the Wildcats built a 17-7 lead. Kentucky maintained a significant advantage throughout the game, as Notre Dame was never able to mount a run. The Wildcats currently have won seven in a row, including an impressive 74-52 victory over Vanderbilt earlier in the week. The Wildcats seem to be coming together to form one of the best teams in the SEC, and Coach Tubby Smith sees it happening before his eyes. “Now we have a pretty good feel for who is going to give us what in certain situations,” Smith said. We also have balance in our scoring. We have a very deep bench and we need the bench players to keep improving.”

Vanderbilt Struggles

Vanderbilt, which fell to Kentucky last Wednesday, lost to in-state rival Tennessee (9-4, 2-2 SEC) 71-66 Sunday in an ugly game in Knoxville. The Commodores (8-7, 1-3) are off to their worst start since the 1991-1992 season after the Volunteers pulled away in the final minutes of what had been a close game. Both teams combined to turn the ball over 35 times, and it was Tennessee’s 53.3 percent shooting from the field that proved to be the difference.

Volunteers’ forward Ron Slay, who averages 21.0 points per game, scored 14 points for Tennessee, which had lost to Florida 77-64 earlier in the week. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, whose team is mired in last place in the SEC East standings, was less than pleased after the loss. “Our problems are a lot worse on the defensive end,” Stallings said. “We were just as bad defensively as offensively. They shot 50 percent both halves. We had two starting guards who didn’t score, so we are really playing three on five. We’ve gone from being pretty good defensively to not being a good defensive team.”

Upset in Baton Rouge

Ole Miss (10-4, 1-2 SEC) may be struggling with its offensive productivity, but its defense has been outstanding. Using its best asset to its advantage, Ole Miss downed LSU 67-57 in Baton Rouge. The Rebels, which had scored just 49 and 65 points in losses to South Carolina and Tennessee, respectively, came back Saturday and stymied a hot-shooting LSU (12-3, 1-2 SEC) team that had been averaging 91 points in its previous three games. Senior guard Emmanuel Wade scored 10 of his 16 points in the second half, as the Rebels pulled away. The Tigers, meanwhile, shot just 38 percent from the field and lost for the first time in 11 games at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Georgia Routs Arkansas

It had been seven days since Arkansas scored just 37 points and lost to Auburn. It had been eternity since Georgia (10-4, 2-1) won a game in Fayetteville. The Bulldogs, which had lost to the Razorbacks (5-9, 0-3) in five previous meeting in Northwest Arkansas, were finally able to pull out a win over an overmatched Arkansas squad, as No. 23 Georgia claimed an easy 77-64 victory.

While Arkansas converted just five of its first 22 shots, Georgia built an insurmountable 33-15 lead. A crowd of 17,766 witnessed the onslaught, Arkansas coach Stan Heath’s first-ever technical foul, and a 19- point performance by Georgia senior guard Ezra Williams. Georgia featured a press, which Arkansas’s new half-court oriented offense could not counter. “We were here two years ago and they pressed us really hard and came back and won,” Williams said. “It’s different coming back here and not seeing Arkansas press.”

Mississippi State Singing the Blues

Mississippi State fell to 0-3 in conference play and 10-4 overall after a heartbreaking 68-62 overtime loss to Alabama Wednesday. The Bulldogs have lost 16 consecutive games on the road. Mississippi State’s poor performance against SEC competition is just another of the many examples of the conference’s overall quality. The Bulldogs will face South Carolina Wednesday in Starkville, where they will look to break the losing streak.


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