Most February weekends around Auburn are important because of who is visiting just prior to National Signing Day. That's usually about as good as it gets for Tiger fans. This year is different.
As we head toward this weekend, there's a lot going on in Auburn athletics with a lot on the line. It's nice to be talking about basketball - both men and women for a change. Sure we're counting the days before spring football practice, but Auburn people are actually talking some round-ball and it's kind of cool.
Many of us had put a fork in Jeff Lebo a month ago. After starting SEC play by losing three of its first four games, the Tigers have gone 7-3 since and now stand at 7-6 in conference play. Most importantly, after more than seven years, Auburn actually plays a meaningful late February contest when they travel to Starkville, Mississippi Saturday to take on Miss State (17-11, 7-6).
Lebo's squad showed their grit on Wednesday by hanging tough against Ole Miss who shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half and led by as many as nine. If there was ever an opportunity to pack it in, that was the time. Instead, Auburn went on a 23-5 run to start the second half and never looked back.
Tomorrow's game looks to be even tougher and the stakes couldn't be higher. If Auburn can remain in the top two of the SEC West they get an automatic first round bye in the upcoming SEC tournament. Just three weeks ago an NIT birth looked slim, now it might be a disappointment for Lebo's team.
With 18 victories now secure, Auburn will need to win at least two of its remaining three games to have a shot at the big dance. After visiting Miss State tomorrow, the Tigers must travel to Tuscaloosa Tuesday night to face a dangerous Alabama squad before returning home Saturday for a huge game with likely SEC champion LSU. A sweep of those games along with a win in the SEC Tournament would likely put Lebo in his first dance with Auburn.
Next Saturday's final home game with LSU begins at 3 p.m. CT and will be televised by Raycom Sports. But if you are in driving distance, please think about making the trip to see it in person. It should be a great atmosphere and let's face it - we owe it to them.
Tickets are $15 but with the Soles for Souls promotion, the admission is only $5 with the donation of a new or used pair of shoes. The game is also Upward Basketball Day and there is free admission for those wearing their Upward jersey. The first 1,500 fans will receive a free t-shirt courtesy of Coca-Cola.
The Auburn women also play an important game this weekend. On Sunday, Nell Fortner's Lady Tigers welcome Arkansas to the Plains. The game is the home and season finale for the SEC-leading Tigers. A victory against the Razorbacks would clinch the team's first SEC regular-season title since the 1989 season and give Auburn the top seed in next week's conference tournament in North Little Rock, Ark.
It also marks the final game for seniors DeWanna Bonner, Whitney Boddie, Sherell Hobbs and Trevesha Jackson. This group put Auburn basketball back on the map. They head into Sunday's home finale with an 81-42 record, including an NCAA Tournament appearance last season.
Auburn enters the contest 26-2 overall and 11-2 in SEC play. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. CT and you can get in free with a donation of two or more non-perishable canned goods.