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Alabama basketball players Richard Hendrix, left, and Jermareo Davidson, back, taught a class of 4-year-olds at the Christ Episcopal Preschool in Tuscaloosa on Friday morning. Hendrix is a graduate of Athens High.
Courtesy photo
Alabama basketball players Richard Hendrix, left, and Jermareo Davidson, back, taught a class of 4-year-olds at the Christ Episcopal Preschool in Tuscaloosa on Friday morning. Hendrix is a graduate of Athens High.

AU has chance to sweep Tide

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

The last time Auburn beat cross-state rival Alabama two times in a row in the same season, the millennium had yet to arrive.

And in that 1999 season, the Tigers won three in a row over the Crimson Tide, including knocking Alabama out of the SEC tournament.

Now Auburn gets its first chance in five years for a season sweep.

Not that that will be easy or anything against the nation's 25th-ranked team.

The Tigers (15-13, 5-8 SEC) will attempt the feat on the road in Coleman Coliseum instead of at home in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.

"It's hard to beat anybody twice. It's hard to beat anybody once," Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo said. "Psychologically, you have an advantage if you play a team that beat you the first time around, then obviously playing at home. In a rival game, that shifts the mojo in their favor a little bit."

Added Auburn junior guard Frank Tolbert: "The fans are rowdy. They're there from the jump, when we come out for shootaround before the game. It's just wild and crazy."

At least the Tigers have the opportunity. Auburn downed Alabama (19-8, 6-7) by 24 points — 81-57 — on Jan. 23.

But while Auburn did snap a four-game losing streak Wednesday with a 67-59 win over Arkansas, the Tigers are just 2-5 since that momentous win over Alabama.

The Crimson Tide, on the other hand, is 4-4 since that long night in Auburn. And in that time, Alabama has wins over Kentucky and Mississippi State, two teams that are a combined 3-0 against Auburn this year.

But the Tide is coming off a 69-66 overtime loss at Tennessee, a game in which All-American guard Ronald Steele reaggravated an injury to his left knee.

He'll play against Auburn, but his effectiveness won't be what it could be. Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried saw his junior leader struggling against the Volunteers.

"They were pressuring him and picking him up full court and his knees were really hurting him and I think he fell one time," Gottfried said

Yet, the re-injury to Steele may be end up being a good thing. With him not on the court as much in the Tennessee game, younger players had a chance to play and gain valuable experience, the kind that will be needed when your No. 1 rival comes to town.

"Our young freshman players came in on the road in a tough environment and just played their hearts out," Gottfried said.

With Steele not at full strength, the teams match up evenly. Auburn averages 72.5 points per game, Alabama 74.1 Auburn shoots 45 percent from the floor, Alabama averages 46.3. Auburn averages 16.5 turnovers per game, Alabama 13.7.

Where Alabama has the advantage is on the inside, where Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix are bigger than anyone Auburn has on its roster.

"They are going to go inside," Lebo said. "We know that."

Add to that the Crimson Tide's anger from the earlier loss to Auburn, and the game could be worth watching.

"Alabama will be ready and prepared and hungry going into this game," Lebo said.

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