Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
ARKANSAS MEN’S BASKETBALL:
Arkansas gets Auburn on rise
Tony Barbee's Auburn Tigers are 2-0 in SEC play.
FAYETTEVILLE The last time Auburn won its first two SEC games, Cliff Ellis was coaching the Tigers and they went to the 2003 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 before losing to Carmelo Anthony and eventual NCAA champion Syracuse.
Tony Barbee is now in his third season as Auburn’s coach after replacing Jeff Lebo and an NCAA Tournament run for the Tigers appears unlikely, but they have won six of eight going into Wednesday night’s game against Arkansas in Walton Arena, including victories at home over Florida State 78-72 and LSU 68-63 and at South Carolina 74-71.
Auburn is looking for its first 3-0 SEC start in 10 years, since the 2002-2003 team won its first four conference games.
“We get to play an Auburn team that really is starting to play some of their better basketball this time of the year,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “As a coach, that’s what you want.
“You want to be clicking on some better cylinders than early in the year. They’re putting it together at the right time.”
The Tigers (8-7) are led by seniors Frankie Sullivan and Rob Chubb, who scored a combined 33 points at South Carolina - 17 for Sullivan and 16 for Chubb, who also had 10 rebounds.
“It’s obvious that they’re led by guys that have been around Tony for three years now,” South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said. “Sullivan and Chubb give them two guys that fully understand what it takes. They take care of business. That’s what seniors do.”
Sullivan, a 6-1 guard who has battled through knee injuries in previous seasons, is averaging 17.2 points. Chubb, a 6-10 center, is averaging 9.7 points and 7.6 rebounds.
“If the freshmen and the new guys chip in, that’s just an added bonus,” Barbee said. “This is the time of the year when seniors have got to take over, and that’s what’s happened.”
Barbee said the newcomers, including freshman guards Shaquille Johnson and Brian Greene, have done a good job of meshing with the seniors and older players, including junior forward Allen Payne.
“All the new guys this year are finally starting to understand what it takes to play and compete and to win at this level,” Barbee said.
Greene had a career-high 14 points and shot 6 of 6 from the field at South Carolina, helping the Tigers overcome the loss of junior guard Chris Denson, who is sidelined by a stress fracture in his foot.
“The more opportunity he’s had to get on the floor, the more his confidence level is going up,” Barbee said.
Auburn trailed in the second half in its victories over Florida State, LSU and South Carolina.
LSU Coach Johnny Jones said in preparing for the Tigers and then playing them, he saw a situation where in the past Auburn might have let up or panicked, but didn’t.
“They played through it, made some tough plays and continued to grow as a team,” Jones said. “I think Coach Barbee’s done a tremendous job with that team, and those guys are playing extremely confidently right now.”
The Tigers’ improved play actually started with a loss, 81-79 to Illinois in Chicago on Dec. 29. That loss dropped the Tigers to 5-7.
“We didn’t get the results that ultimately we wanted to get out of our nonconference schedule,” Barbee said. “We were a little inconsistent.
“But I saw how hard these guys were working in practice and how together they were; the older guys helping these new guys because they knew that we needed them for us to go on a little bit of a run.
“We’re still not a finished product. We’ve got a long ways to go, but this is a result of what’s been taking place in practice, how we’ve been playing and how we’ve been competing and how we’ve been finishing in games.”
ARKANSAS VS. AUBURN
WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville WHEN 7 p.m. Wednesday TELEVISION KAIT-TV, Jonesboro; KATV, Little Rock; KHBS/KHOG-TV, Fayetteville COACHES Mike Anderson, Arkansas; Tony Barbee, Auburn RECORDS Arkansas (10-5, 1-1 SEC);
Auburn (8-7, 2-0)
Sports, Pages 15 on 01/15/2013