COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Weary, depleted Tigers host Tide
Frank Tolbert needs to take a break.
His ailments keep mounting. The tender ankle won't be fully rehabilitated until season's end. Tolbert's elbow hurts. He took a tumble at Tennessee earlier this week that still requires ice to reduce swelling.
Today won't provide much of a reprieve. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard, moonlighting as a power forward because of Auburn's personnel shortages, will spend part of his afternoon guarding Alabama star forward Richard Hendrix.
Still, Tolbert won't relent.
"I guess it's just the way I play," the senior said. "I'm just trying to get this old body of mine better so I can play."
There hasn't been much rest for any of the Tigers (13-11) since forward Korvotney Barber broke his left wrist on Dec. 28. Coach Jeff Lebo has stuck with a six-man lineup that requires those players to log a sometimes unreasonable number of minutes.
All five starters are among the Southeastern Conference's leaders in minutes played. Shooting guard Quantez Robertson averages a league-high 37 minutes per game. Tolbert is the most rested of Auburn's starters. He averages only 30 minutes per game.
Lebo worries how the difficult staffing situation will affect his team during the season's final weeks. He is particularly concerned with sophomore guard Dwayne Reed, to whom Lebo ideally would allocate 20 minutes per game.
Instead, Reed is averaging 34.
"He has had to play too many minutes for us," Lebo said. "That has hurt him."
A byproduct of the Tigers' bench situation is the emphasis it puts on fouls. Prowell, the team's tallest regular player, picked up a second foul with 10:27 remaining in the first half of Auburn's game at No. 2 Tennessee on Wednesday.
The home team was ahead by two points when Lebo sent Prowell to the bench. The Volunteers outscored Auburn 32-7 during those final 10 minutes of the half.
The Tigers are forced to shoot from outside almost exclusively when Prowell is off the court. That's why Lebo's team attempted 35 shots from 3-point range in Knoxville.
It hit 10. Tennessee won by 19 points.
"If we don't make (the 3-pointers), we could get beat by 40," Lebo said. "If we make them, we can win. If we don't take that many, we can also lose by 15 or 10. That's the way we decided to go with this group."
Alabama (14-12) showed what perimeter accuracy can do in its Jan. 26 game against Auburn, hitting 12 of 25 from long range in a 20-point win. Yet it's not all about perimeter shooting for the Crimson Tide.
Hendrix is among SEC leaders in points, rebounds and blocks. Defensive lapses and the loss of star point guard Ronald Steele to injury has compromised what could have been a strong season.
Now Alabama is tied with Auburn for fourth place in the Western Division at 3-8. Today's winner will close within one-half game of third-place Ole Miss.