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Auburn's Frank Tolbert (1) is averaging 13 points per game for the Auburn Tigers (9-3) this season.
AP photo by Todd J. Van Emst
Auburn's Frank Tolbert (1) is averaging 13 points per game for the Auburn Tigers (9-3) this season.

AU eager to take next step against ranked team

By Bradley Handwerger 340-2462

AUBURN — With two days left before Christmas, Jeff Lebo is looking for an early present.

But this one won't come from his family.

Instead, Auburn's head basketball coach wants his team to wrap up a win over a top 25 team for him.

That gift-giving chance comes tonight when Auburn (9-3) hosts No. 13 Texas A&M (9-2).

A win could be that next step for an Auburn program looking for anything that resembles a step.

"It'd be nice," Lebo said. "But we never really talk about wins and losses. It'd be big for the kids and their confidence. Maybe that is the next step."

Auburn has played three previous games against top 25 opponents this season, taking current-No. 15 Oklahoma State to the end before losing 66-65, staying close to then-No. 2 Pittsburgh in a 74-66 loss, and hanging with then-No. 7 Wisconsin 77-63.

But, as the youngsters say, close counts only in horseshoes.

And yet, Lebo is confident that his team has improved.

More than anything, the team has added depth this year, helping it get better.

Against Tennessee State on Tuesday, Lebo had 11 scholarship players available for the first time in his Auburn tenure.

"I'm hoping that's going to help us," Lebo said. "When they're tired, we're able to bring them out and sit them and not lose a lot when we substitute will help us."

Against Texas A&M, depth should help.

The Aggies play tight defense, Lebo said, likely the best his team has seen yet.

"Texas A&M is a very physical team, very defensive-minded team," Lebo said.

Auburn will have momentum from a 27-point win Tuesday night, as well as throwing five players averaging double figures at Texas A&M.

The Tigers are led by 6-foot-7 forward Korvotney Barber, who has exploded out of the blocks this year, averaging 14.8 points, 7.8
rebounds and 3 blocks per

Josh Dollard's 12.8 points and 8.7 rebounds help.

Additionally, the Quan Prowell's return will only help Auburn. Prowell scored six points and grabbed three rebounds in his first game back from suspension three days ago.

"Had a little bad luck with not playing more than nine (minutes)," Lebo said. "But you can see out there that he's going to be able to help us because he can do a lot of different things for us."

Then again, Texas A&M has seen as much good competition this season as the Tigers.

The Aggies only losses have come against No. 1 UCLA and then-No. 9 LSU.

"They're probably ... more physical than the Pitt team we played," Lebo said. "We'll see what we're made of here Friday."

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