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SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2007
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Turnovers plaguing Auburn again

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

When Auburn and Mississippi State met Jan. 20, the Tigers had limitless possibilities on how their season would turn out.

Now, three weeks later, Auburn suddenly is fighting for air, looking for any semblance of life as it hosts Mississippi State on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.

That's life in the SEC with a team that suddenly resembles a bad junior varsity squad instead of an NCAA Division I school.

Auburn (14-11, 4-6 SEC) has lost its last two games and four of its last six. The Tigers turned the ball over 25 times in a loss to Ole Miss, and, four nights later, gave it away 19 times in a loss to Arkansas.

"It's hard to score points too when you're turning the ball over," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "We've averaged 22 the last two games, and it's hard to overcome that and expect to win games in this league. I don't know what it is."

It hasn't always been like this.

When the Bulldogs (12-10, 3-6) pulled away from Auburn 87-76 on that Saturday in January, brighter times were ahead for Auburn — a 24-point win over Alabama and a five-point win at South Carolina.

Against the Gamecocks, Auburn had 14 turnovers and the win put the Tigers five games above .500 and first place in the SEC's Western Division.

And now?

Auburn sits in fourth place in the division and still is looking for that one win that will give the Tigers their most SEC victories since Lebo took over in 2004.

But when you're turning the ball over at the pace Auburn is, the darkness only gets darker.

Floor leader Quantez Robertson, responsible for six of those turnovers against Ole Miss, said he knows the problem.

"I believe we are just moving too fast, moving faster than we normally do and not being careful with the ball," the sophomore guard said.

Rushing shots, especially when down, is plaguing the team.

"We are just going to have to run our offense to a 'T,' " Robertson said. "Whenever we get a good shot, take a good shot, not necessarily rushing when the shot clock is running down. Got to be patient and take the best shot available."

For what it's worth, the turnovers aren't going unpunished.

Lebo makes the players run for unforced turnovers. And they've talked about taking care of the ball nearly every day.

"We don't call fouls in practice," Lebo said. "They look at us like we're crazy. Sometimes we call fouls, but they've got to be blatant. Got to be strong with the basketball."

If there's a silver lining, and you have got to look hard, it's that Auburn had a chance in both games, but it turned the ball over in bunches.

The Tigers cut the Ole Miss lead down to 4 five minutes into the second half, and against Arkansas, the Tigers trailed by three or less with two minutes remaining.

Even more, Mississippi State forces only 13.1 turnovers a game. Auburn needs to take advantage of that gift.

"We want to play better," Lebo said. "The winning and losing is going to take care of itself. We need take care of the basketball."

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