Originally created 01/11/00

Win over Kentucky won't prove anything to Auburn



AUBURN, Ala. -- Don't ask Auburn coach Cliff Ellis if his fourth-ranked Tigers have something to prove against Kentucky.

Ellis is treating Tuesday's meeting against the 20th-ranked Wildcats as just another game. Suggesting otherwise only annoys him.

Sorry, coach, but it is a big deal. Auburn, after all, has lost 14 straight to the Wildcats, twice during last season's four-loss season.

A win in Tuesday night's nationally televised game would end the streak and give the Tigers a chance to prove last season's 29-4 record was no fluke.

Still, Ellis bristled Monday when asked what statement the Tigers (13-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) need to make against Kentucky (10-4, 1-0).

"We've only been doing it for 15 months," Ellis said. "I don't know what statement this team needs to make except to go out and play and leave it all on the court every night."

Ellis thinks the Tigers have done that so far this season.

Maybe so, but they still have some doubters, Georgia coach Jim Harrick among them. He wasn't impressed with Auburn's 67-52 win over the Bulldogs Saturday.

"If that's the best team in the league, and the No. 4 team in the country, then I'm encouraged," Harrick said.

Harrick also took aim at Auburn guards Scott Pohlman and Doc Robinson, first calling them "adequate," then saying a team needs "outstanding guards" to make a run at the national title.

The criticism doesn't bother Ellis, who said Monday he thought Harrick's comments probably were misinterpreted.

But that hasn't silenced the critics, who overlook Auburn's 42-5 record with Pohlman and Robinson in the lineup, and instead point to Auburn's soft non-conference schedule.

The Tigers have played only one ranked team this season, a 67-58 loss at No. 3 Stanford. They've won 11 straight since then, by beating teams such as Coppin State, Puerto Rico-Mayaguez and Stony Brook.

Plus, their games seem a lot closer.

Last season, Auburn beat opponents by an average margin of 19.6 points a game. Even though the Tigers are winning by an average of 22 points this season, the statistic is padded by wins like the 66-point runaway against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Close victories over UAB, Florida State, Penn and Southern Miss have critics claiming Auburn is overrated.

"People want you to win by 30 every game and it's not going to happen," Ellis said. "... It's just a matter of how greedy you want to be. We just want to be the best we can be."

Auburn fans are hoping the Tigers get greedy against Kentucky, which has won six straight.

They remember that last season's Auburn team -- the best in school history and the one that won its first SEC title since 1960 -- lost to Kentucky twice. It continued a streak that dates back to 1991, also the last time Auburn came within single digits of the Wildcats.

That also was the Tigers' last home loss. They've won 24 straight since then.

"I don't know if it's just the way the ball bounces or what, but we're trying not to dwell on any of the past games," said forward Daymeon Fishback, a Kentucky native who won the state's "Mr. Basketball" award in 1996.

"We know it's Kentucky and we know they have great tradition, but beating them isn't our only goal," he said. "There's 14 other games after this one."

PLAYERS OF WEEK:

SEC: Kentucky forward Tayshaun Prince has been named the Southeastern Conference player of the week. In leading Kentucky to wins over Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt, Prince averaged 19 points, 7.5 rebounds and three assists.

It was the second straight week that a Wildcat has been honored. Center Jamal Magloire won the award last week.

ACC: Duke's Chris Carrawell was named the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the week and Roger Mason of Virginia was the conference's top rookie performer for their role in games last week.