Ugly victory over Wake has Auburn sitting pretty

No. 10 seed Tigers gain berth in Sweet 16, 68-62

Ncaa Tournament

March 24, 2003|By George Diaz | George Diaz,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TAMPA, Fla. -- Classic it was not, but the Auburn Tigers still have their dancin' shoes on, advancing to the revered Sweet 16 for only the third time in school history.

"It's a wonderful experience that they're fixing to go to," coach Cliff Ellis said in a distinctive Southern twang, putting the proper accent on his team's 68-62 victory against No. 2 seed Wake Forest in an East Regional matchup at the St. Petersburg Times Forum yesterday afternoon.

The Tigers (22-11) advance to Albany, N.Y., to play Syracuse on Friday. Wake Forest (25-6), the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champions, is 3-4 in four NCAA tournament appearances since a Tim Duncan-led team lost to Kentucky in a regional final in 1996.

As a No. 10 seed that had lost nine of its past 14 games -- punctuated by snippy commentary between Ellis and college basketball guru Dick Vitale in the past few days -- the Tigers are one of those teams that didn't figure in anybody's Sweet 16 bracket.

They won ugly, crushing the synchronicity of Wake Forest's offensive sets with a flurry of arms. Amid a sloppy stretch of air balls, turnovers and lousy shots in the second half, the Deacons managed just one field goal in a seven-minute span.

Most importantly, Wake Forest's 48-44 lead had vaporized into a 57-54 deficit with 4:01 remaining.

It was all Auburn in the second half, outscoring Wake Forest by 10 points after trailing 38-34. The Demon Deacons made just seven of 26 shots in the second half (27 percent), and they were outscored 36-14 in the paint, reflecting Auburn's hustle and muscle approach.

"They played a great defensive game, and we couldn't handle it," said Wake Forest senior swingman Josh Howard.

"It hurts. I had a chance to help the team, and I didn't capitalize. As a team, we didn't capitalize on our offensive possessions, and that was it."

The Demon Deacons didn't get much in the way of offensive balance. Justin Gray had 26 points, and Howard -- the team's first All-American since Duncan -- scored 14. Beyond that, Wake Forest could not find any offense to match Auburn.

Derrick Bird did the defensive job on Howard.

"Derrick Bird is an All-American defensive player. We don't care who's out there, he's going to guard him," Ellis said. "Whoever we play next is going to see it, too."

Auburn had four players in double figures, led by Marquis Daniels, an Orlando native playing in front of friends and family.

After sitting on the bench for five minutes with four fouls, Daniels came back to score seven of his 18 points in the final four minutes -- though Auburn already had established a three-point lead before his return.

"Marquis was probably a marked man and when he was off the floor there was nobody marked, so it helped us to do some things offensively," Ellis said.

"It shows this team really is a team. We made our run with Marquis over there with us. The young guys really stood up there and grew up."

Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said: "We just had a hard time scoring. Give credit to Auburn. I think some of it was a function of our just missing shots, but I'm not sure we were the most poised team down the stretch, either."

George Diaz is a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

AUBURN--Daniels 7-15 4-7 18, Killingsworth 4-10 3-4 11, Davis 1-3 0-0 2, Bird 3-10 2-2 9, Monroe 2-6 6-6 12, Robinson 5-9 1-1 11, Watson 2-3 0-0 5, Lollar 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-56 16-20 68. WAKE FOREST--Levy 1-4 1-2 3, Danelius 1-6 2-3 4, E.Williams 1-4 2-2 4, Downey 3-6 0-0 9, Howard 4-10 6-6 14, Ellis 0-0 0-0 0, Gray 8-15 5-6 26, Joyce 0-0 0-0 0, Lepore 0-1 0-0 0, Strickland 0-3 2-2 2. Totals 18-49 18-21 62. Half--Wake Forest, 38-34. 3-point goals--Auburn 4-19 (Monroe 2-5, Watson 1-2, Bird 1-6, Killingsworth 0-1, Robinson 0-1, Daniels 0-4), Wake Forest 8-23 (Gray 5-9, Downey 3-5, Lepore 0-1, Levy 0-1, Howard 0-3, Danelius 0-4). Fouled out--Levy. Rebounds--Auburn 33 (Killingsworth 8), Wake Forest 35 (Howard 8). Assists--Auburn 11 (Killingsworth, Monroe 3), Wake Forest 5 (Danelius, Downey, Gray, Howard, Levy). Total fouls--Auburn 18, Wake Forest 23.

Four of 16

Conferences that have accounted for four of the Sweet 16 since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985:

1985 - ACC (Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State); Big East (Boston College, x-Georgetown, x-St. John's, y-Villanova)

1986 - ACC (x-Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, North Carolina State); SEC (Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, x-LSU)

1989 - ACC (x-Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia); Big Ten (x-Illinois, Indiana, y-Michigan, Minnesota)

1990 - ACC (Clemson, x-Duke, x-Georgia Tech, North Carolina)

1992 - ACC (y-Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina)

1993 - ACC (Florida State, y-North Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest)

1995 - ACC (Maryland, x-North Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest)

1996 - SEC (Arkansas, Georgia, y-Kentucky, x-Mississippi State)

1997 - Pac-10 (y-Arizona, California, Stanford, UCLA)

1998 - Pac-10 (Arizona, x-Stanford, UCLA, Washington)

1999 - Big Ten (Iowa, x-Michigan State, x-Ohio State, Purdue)

2001 - Pac-10 (Arizona, Southern Cal, Stanford, UCLA)

2002 - Big 12 (x-Kansas, Missouri, x-Oklahoma, Texas)

2003 - Big East (Connecticut, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse)

x-reached Final Four; y-won national championship.

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