Auburn And #16/18 Kentucky Set For SEC Second-Place Clash
Feb. 2, 2011
[NR/NR] Auburn (13-8, 6-2 SEC) at [16/18] Kentucky (17-4, 6-2 SEC)
When: Thursday, February 3 6 p.m. CT
AUBURN - Auburn (13-8, 6-2 SEC) and #16/18 Kentucky (17-4, 6-2 SEC) will try to separate themselves near the top of the Southeastern Conference standings Thursday night as the teams square off in Lexington, Ky. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. CT, from Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum.
The Tigers and Wildcats enter the game in a three-way tie with Georgia for second place in the SEC, trailing only Tennessee (9-0) in the standings. But, even with the implications in the standings, Auburn head coach Nell Fortner said all the games are important this time of year.
"All the games are big. To be able to go on the road and grab a win or two is very important, so we will do all we can to go on the road this time and win the ballgame," said Fortner. "The SEC is a tough conference and every game is tough, but I like where we sit right now. We just have continue taking care of business."
After a rough start to the season, it has been balanced scoring and some great defensive efforts that have put the Tigers in contention in the SEC.
There are currently four Tigers ranked in the top 30 in scoring in SEC-only games. Sophomore Blanche Alverson leads the way with 12.0 points per game, followed by Morgan Toles and Jordan Greenleaf with 10.5 points per game each. Senior Alli Smalley rounds out the group with 10.4 points per game.
"It is nice to get balanced scoring, there is no question about that," said Fortner. "We need everybody to score, but to be able to spread the ball out and for teams to not be able to focus just on one player is important. It is nice to have a lot of options."
Smalley has also been getting it done for the Tigers on defense. She currently ranks seventh in the SEC in steals with 1.7 per game, but is averaging 2.7 per game over the last nine games.
"Offensively, I have struggled a little bit," said Smalley. "My mind has to be where when that is happening to pick it up in different areas of my game, so that is what I have tried to do and I have tried to place a lot of focus on the defensive end and being active on the court and I think that is where it comes out."
Heading into the second half of the SEC season, Auburn turns its attention to Kentucky, a team coming off a big come-from-behind 82-69 win at Alabama.
Kentucky returns three starters from last season's team that went 28-8 (11-5 SEC) and took runner-up honors in the SEC. The Wildcats also advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
UK went 11-2 in non-conference games, falling only to Louisville (78-52) and Duke (54-48). The Duke loss was the first of three in a row for the Wildcats as Kentucky went on to lose to Arkansas (78-67) and Georgia (61-59). Since then, however, Kentucky has gone on to win its last six games, including a pair of comeback victories on the road at Ole Miss and Alabama.
Victoria Dunlap, last season's SEC Player of the Year, leads the Wildcats and the conference in scoring with 17.8 points per game. She also ranks fourth in the league in rebounding (9.3), first in steals (3.4) and fifth in blocked shots (1.6).
She is also one of three Wildcats averaging double figures in scoring, leading A'dia Mathies with 13.3 points per game and Keyla Snowden with 10.8.
As a team, Kentucky shoots 40.2 percent from the field and 32.8 percent from 3-point range. The Wildcats average 74.8 points per game and 39.7 rebounds per game.
"Kentucky is a very good team," said Fortner. "They have great quickness and they have the returning SEC Player of the Year in Victoria Dunlap, a very nice inside player for them. Kentucky has great quickness, speed, they have great depth and they are playing very well right now, so it is going to be a tough battle."
After a difficult 1-4 start to the season, Auburn has rallied to go 12-4 in its last 16 games, including a five-game winning streak.
The Tigers have lived off their defense this season, averaging 9.8 steals and 4.0 blocks per game. Auburn opponents average 19.4 turnovers per game with the Tigers scoring an average of 19.8 points per game off of turnovers.
Smalley leads the team with 11.8 points per game, followed by Alverson with 11.5 per game. Smalley and Alverson have combined to average 3.4 3-pointers made per game.
Greenleaf pulls down a team-high 7.7 rebounds per game, along with her 9.5 points. Toles averages 9.0 points and 5.5 assists per game, good enough for first in the SEC.
For fans that cannot make it to the game, live stats and an audio Webcast will be available at AuburnTigers.com. Tiger fans can listen to the game live on WMXA 96.7 FM with play-by-play from Andy Burcham and color commentary from Arnika Edwards. A video Webcast of the game is available at www.UKAthletics.com.
Follow Auburn women's basketball on Twitter at twitter.com/AuburnWBB.
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