Defense a bright spot for struggling Tigers

Defense has been the lone bright spot for Auburn Basketball this season.

Auburn’s six SEC losses have come in three classes this year.

Games in which the Tigers were competitive until the end before falling (Florida and Alabama), games in which they fell far behind before mounting a bit of a comeback (LSU and Arkansas) and games they were never in (Kentucky and Mississippi State).

Through it all — while Auburn’s offense has been atrocious — the defense has been average-to-good.

The Tigers rank smack in the middle of the league (sixth) in scoring defense with 65.3 points per game against, and rank seventh in that category in conference games at 68.5 ppg — 0.1 points behind today’s opponent South Carolina.

They also rank third in the league with 8.0 steals per conference game.

Auburn’s defensive high point so far has been the 45 points and 28-percent shooting it yielded to the No. 24 Gators.

The low point came against Mississippi State four days earlier, when the Bulldogs chewed the Tigers up in transition to the tune of 85 points and six dunks.

Auburn coach Tony Barbee said the problems start when his players start letting their offensive woes creep into their defensive mindset.

“It’s tough, it’s tough,” forward Adrian Forbes said. “But we’ve got to be a defensive-minded team and let our defense determine the offense.”

During the Razorbacks’ 22-1 run that blew the game open against Auburn on Tuesday, the most troubling thing to Barbee wasn’t the fact that the Tigers missed 23 straight field goals.

It was the fact they had lapses in transition defense, didn’t set up the zone every time down and allowed Arkansas to shoot 7-for-13, including two 3-pointers and two dunks.

“We hung our heads and trotted back and those guys made some big shots off of our lack of offense,” Barbee said.

South Carolina (12-6, 3-2 SEC) is another team that can make Auburn (7-13, 0-6) pay if it’s lacking in transition defense today.

Speedy freshman point guard Bruce Ellington (13.6 ppg, 3.7 apg) delights in pushing the pace for the Gamecocks.

“Their guards are very explosive,” Barbee said. “They are a team that plays very fast and very aggressive, offensively and defensively.”
South Carolina also presents problems on the inside with 6-foot-9 forward Sam Muldrow, who averages 7.3 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game.

The Gamecocks lead the SEC with 14.7 offensive rebounds per game and rank second in the league with 6.7 blocks per game.

“That is always a big deal for us because of our size and lack of size at a couple of positions,” Barbee said. “We have to do a great job of boxing out and keeping teams off the boards.” | 737-2568

Auburn (7-13, 0-6 SEC) at South Carolina (12-6, 3-2)
Where: Colonial Life Arena
When: 12:30 p.m.
Radio/TV: WKKR (97.7 FM)/SEC Network
Projected starters, Auburn: F Allen Payne, 6-6, Fr. (5.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.2 spg); F Kenny Gabriel, 6-8, Jr. (9.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.1 bpg); F Rob Chubb, 6-10, So. (7.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 0.8 bpg); G Chris Denson, 6-2, Fr. (2.6 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 1.1 apg); G Josh Wallace, 5-10, So. (5.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 4.0 apg)
Projected starters, South Carolina: F Damonte Harris, 6-9, Fr. (3.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.1 bpg); F Lakeem Jackson, 6-5, So. (9.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.6 apg); F Sam Muldrow, 6-9, Sr. (10.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 3.4 bpg); G Brian Richardson, 6-4, Fr. (7.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.7 apg); G Bruce Ellington, 5-9, Fr. (14.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.7 apg)

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