Gators aiming high at Auburn
Florida hopes to exploit a small but quick Auburn team tonight.
Published: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 at 12:53 a.m.
Auburn coach Jeff Lebo knew before the season started it was going to be a struggle.
He knew that rebounds were going to come as often as comets. Points in the paint? That was another mystery to be solved.
The Tigers adapted, going 9-5 with four guards and a 6-foot-6 forward in the starting lineup. Only the lack of height was exposed badly in their season-opening Southeastern Conference loss at Mississippi State. Senior forward Lawrence Roberts, as he does against much bigger lineups, dominated inside with 19 points and 15 rebounds. Overall, Mississippi State out-rebounded Auburn 53-33 in a 90-53 win.
That should set up for Florida to pound the ball inside tonight when it plays the Tigers at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
"They are a little bit different defensively," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "As much as you want to do it, they really slough in there. They double. They do a lot of different things."
Smaller lineups have presented matchup problems for Florida in the recent past. Miami, with a three-guard lineup of Guillermo Diaz, Anthony Harris and Robert Hite, handed Florida a surprising 72-65 loss last month in the O'Connell Center. Manhattan's undersized lineup was equally as effective against Florida in its 75-60 NCAA Tournament win last March.
Donovan is concerned because Auburn's guards are as quick and athletic. Freshman Toney Douglas leads the SEC in scoring at 18.8 points. Senior point guard Ian Young is at 16.2 points per game and 4.1 assists.
Auburn ranks second in the SEC in 3-pointers per game made, at 9.14 per game.
"Not only do they shoot the three, but they have guys on the perimeter who have the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive it to the basket," Donovan said. "They have a combination of both things where if you try to get all the way out there and pressure them and take away the 3-point line, they have the explosiveness, the athletic ability to put it on the floor and get by you."
Stopping the three will be a priority. In non-conference games against Florida State, Louisville, Miami and Providence, Florida allowed the four teams to shoot a combined 46 percent from 3-point range. Not surprisingly, Florida finished 1-3 in the four games.
"A lot of that has to do with us over-helping in certain situations, and not being in the right defensive position and losing sight of the basketball," Donovan said. "I think our guys have a better understanding of how to take advantage of the three from an offensive standpoint and how important it is defending it."
Auburn relies on the 3-point line for survival, because its rebounding margin, which ranks last in the SEC (minus-4.8), is dreadful.
"It's hard for us to be creative, because we don't have the personnel," Lebo said. "You can't really simulate things in practice because we have so few guys with height. We just have to hope that we can knock down open shots and maybe get some long rebounds off some misses. That's just the hand we're dealt with right now."
Florida senior forward David Lee is in position to take the biggest advantage. Lee is coming off a 17-point, 7-rebound, 5-assist game against Arkansas in which he was more aggressive going to the basket. It was a point shy of the season-high 18 he scored against an undermanned Louisville frontline.
"I should be doing that no matter who we play," Lee said. "But I know we're going to see some zone because they are going to be smaller inside."
"He's tough to double, because he's such a good passer," Lebo said. "He has a knack for finding the open man."
Lee believes that Auburn will find ways to adjust after the Mississippi State loss. The Tigers had a bye over the weekend, giving Lebo a full week to prepare for Florida.
"They've played against big front lines," Lee said. "They just played against Mississippi State. So I'm sure they will do some different things to counter our height advantage inside."
Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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