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February 28, 2011

Varnadore named SEC Pitcher of the Week

Auburn’s Derek Varnadore was named SEC Pitcher of the Week after a 13-strikeout, two-hit shutout of Radford on Sunday.

The right-hander, who transferred from Chattahoochee Valley Community College, allowed only four baserunners against Radford, none of which advanced past second. His 13 strikeouts were the most by a Tigers pitcher since Chris Bootcheck struck out 15 against West Virginia in 1999.

Varnadore is 2-0 in two starts this year, allowing five hits, three walks and no runs. He’s struck out 17 in 16 innings.
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    Monday links: Looking back at the ‘Cam-bine’

    Another day of NFL combine links, courtesy of whoever wrote something informational from Indianapolis that I could link to. Without further adieu:

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      • The good: his workout numbers. Newton ran an unofficial 4.58-second 40-yard dash (officially counted as a 4.59), third fastest among quarterbacks. He had a 35-inch vertical jump (third) and a 10-foot, 6-inch broad jump (tied for first). As Tigers fans well know, he’s a physical beast.
      • But Newton’s throwing day wasn’t as good as his training session for the media in San Diego earlier this month. He completed 11 of his 21 throws, overthrowing a few. Even Newton said he was a little frustrated.
      • But onlookers didn’t think it was all bad. ESPN’s John Clayton wrote that Newton’s powerful arm is just what NFL teams are looking for.
      • What did Cam think of his day? Here’s video of him talking about it. And if you’re into watching the actual drills he did, click here.
      • Nick Fairley arrived and had his turn at the microphone. CBS’s Pete Prisco brushes off all the “dirty player” talk and says Fairley is the best player in the draft.
      • A full note about Fairley’s day in front of the media by Pro Football Weekly (scroll down). Fairley was adamant that he doesn’t take plays off.
      • Some stuff on Fairley in the middle of this Don Banks article from Sports Illustrated. A shoulder injury to his AC joint suffered against Georgia prevented Fairley from bench pressing this weekend. We’ll see if he does it at Auburn’s Pro Day on March 8. I’d assume he would have to. (Oregon State’s Stephen Paea, by the way, repped 225 a combine-record 49 times. Sweet fancy Moses that’s a lot.)
      • Thought it was interesting that Fairley measured up at 6-foot-3, 291 pounds. He was listed as 6-5 and over 300 at Auburn.
            • The day’s big workout winner for Auburn? Running back Mario Fannin, who clocked a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, second best of the running backs and fourth-best for the weekend so far (defensive backs have yet to run). His time was .05 seconds faster than Ben Tate last year. Fannin, who measured in at 5-10, 231 pounds, also had a 37.5-inch vertical jump. Will it be enough to get Fannin drafted? I’m still skeptical. His fumbling problems are an issue that won’t go away. But NFL teams love speed, so this figures to at the very least increase his chances of signing a free agent deal somewhere if he goes undrafted.
            • Did not see a lot out there on Darvin Adams, but SI still listed him as one of the rising receivers. Adams didn’t have a great 40 time (mid-4.5s) but did catch the ball well, which is where he’ll make his money at the next level.
            • Up today: Fairley and the defensive linemen take the field for drills.

            February 27, 2011

            Auburn women’s hoops the sixth seed in SEC tournament, will play Mississippi State

            The SEC women’s tournament field is set. Auburn is the sixth seed and will play 11th-seeded Mississippi State on Thursday at 10 p.m. ET in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.

            The Tigers (15-14, 8-8 SEC) wrapped their regular season up with a 76-62 loss to Kentucky on Sunday.
            They split the season series with the Bulldogs, winning 45-41 in Starkville and losing 57-45 in Auburn. The winner plays No. 3 Vanderbilt on Friday, also at 10 p.m. ET.
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            Here’s the full schedule:
            • Thursday: #9 Arkansas vs. #8 Florida, FSN, 1:00 p.m. ET
            • Thursday: #10 Alabama vs. #7 LSU, FSN, 3:30 p.m. ET
            • Thursday: #12 Ole Miss vs. #5 South Carolina, FSN, 7:30 p.m. ET
            • Thursday: #11 Mississippi State vs. #6 Auburn, FSN, 10:00 p.m. ET
            • Friday: Winner Game 1 vs. #1 Tennessee, FSN, 1:00 p.m. ET
            • Friday: Winner Game 2 vs. #2 Kentucky, FSN, 3:30 p.m. ET
            • Friday: Winner Game 3 vs. #4 Georgia, FSN, 7:30 p.m. ET
            • Friday: Winner Game 4 vs. #3 Vanderbilt, FSN, 10:00 p.m. ET
            • Saturday: Game 9, ESPNU, 4:00 p.m. ET
            • Saturday: Game 10, ESPNU, 6:30 p.m. ET
            • Sunday: (SEC Championship Game), Game 11, ESPN2, 5:30 p.m. ET

            Sunday links: Auburn players at the NFL Combine

            The blog isn’t in Indianapolis, but we like to scour the Internet for stories from folks who are. Here’s a sampling of stuff about Auburn’s players.

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            • This big show Saturday was Cam Newton, who went through interviews with the media and a few teams. As it is every time Newton talks, everything he said was under the microscope. He clarified his “icon” statement from earlier this month.
            • Watch video of Newton’s opening statement at the podium here. (Honestly, sounded kind of wooden. He’s better when he’s not reading from a piece of paper.)
            • A question about attempting a quarterback sneak instead of just taking a knee at the end of the BCS title game reportedly flustered him.
            • Offensive lineman Lee Ziemba finished up his combine Saturday. Had a tough time finding stuff on how Ziemba fared. Only numbers I saw were on the HABOTN. Ziemba ran a 5.47-second time in the 40-yard dash and had a 7-foot, 11-inch broad jump. The leaders among offensive linemen were 4.97 seconds in the 40 (Nate Solder, Colorado) and 9 feet, 6 inches for the broad jump (Jarriel King, South Carolina).
            • Not sure if you can spot Mario Fannin in this video, but it’s pretty funny. Gorilla suit gags never fail to entertain.
            • Big workout opportunity for Newton, Adams and Fannin today, when quarterbacks, receivers and running backs go through drills. Fairley and the defensive linemen take the field Monday.

            February 26, 2011

            Late Arkansas dunk sinks Auburn in final seconds for second time this week

            AUBURN, Ala. — In erasing a 13-point second-half deficit against Arkansas, Auburn did everything right defensively, contesting shots, stepping into passing lanes and converting turnovers into points.

            But when the Tigers needed one last defensive stop, like earlier this week against Alabama, they couldn’t get it.

            Arkansas forward Delvon Johnson got open after Auburn failed to make a defensive switch, receiving a pass from Julysses Nobles under the hoop and dunking it with 5 seconds remaining to lift the Razorbacks (18-10, 7-7 SEC) to a 57-55 win at the Auburn Arena on Saturday.
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            Auburn guard Josh Wallace got a good look at a long 3-pointer from just inside halfcourt at the final horn, but it was too strong, hitting the backboard and rim before bouncing away as the Tigers (9-19, 2-12 SEC) lost in the final seconds for the second time this week.

            They lost a heartbreaker at Alabama on Wednesday 51-49 on a tip-in by JaMychal Green with .3 seconds left.

            “It’s draining,” Wallace said. “You want to win. And to come so close and fight so hard, it hurts.”

            The Tigers did their best to get SEC win No. 3, charging back after being down by 13 early in the second half. Auburn scored seven straight, starting with a 3-pointer by Earnest Ross with 3:49 to play. A Rob Chubb layup cut the lead to two before Kenny Gabriel got open for a layup with 28.1 seconds left to tie the game at 55.

            Arkansas held for the final shot, finding an opening when Auburn guard Chris Denson got caught behind Johnson in the post after Gabriel called for a switch after being screened. The feed from Nobles was precise and Johnson had an easy two-handed jam.

            “We executed our tails off defensively down the stretch, except for the very last play,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “We broke down. … I told the guys that even though that play happened, we lost this game a long time ago because of the way we started.”

            The Tigers continued to struggle offensively, finishing with their second-lowest first-half point total this season.

            They shot 26 percent in the first half and went into the locker room down 27-20 only by the good fortune of a goaltending call against Arkansas as the clock expired on a Wallace 3-pointer that didn’t appear to have a chance at going in. Wallace finished with 9 points and 5 assists.

            Auburn missed easy looks all afternoon. Chubb air-balled a hook shot from three feet away. Ross, who finished with 11, missed an uncontested layup after a steal. Gabriel led the team with 13 points but took 16 shots to do so.

            “Have we seen that before? Is that something new?” Barbee asked rhetorically. “We have seen it all year long. Offensively, we are what we are.”

            Still, the Tigers hung close because of effort. They had nine steals, forced 17 turnovers that they converted into into 19 points and matched their SEC-high with five blocks.

            Although Arkansas guard Rotnei Clarke, who finished with a game-high 17 points, hit several shots to keep it at bay, Auburn stuck close and gave themselves a chance.

            “There is no quit in this team,” Barbee said. “That is what we have to be about as our foundation. We are coming at you and if we lose it is because we ran out of time, not because we gave up. Our team has done that all year long. I am proud of them for that.”

            Auburn’s Ward working, waiting on his chance

            Auburn and Arkansas play this afternoon, but I wrote about somebody who won’t even be dressing up for the game — point guard Varez Ward, a transfer from Texas. Here’s how the story starts:

            AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn guard Varez Ward has perfected the waiting game.
            His college debut was delayed a year for prep school. His first chance to shine was delayed because of a bad attitude. And his opportunity to start has been delayed by a quad tear and transfer from Texas to Auburn, where he won’t be eligible to play until next season.

            But patience is exactly what is needed by the Tigers (9-18, 2-11 SEC), who continue to play out the stretch today against Arkansas (17-10, 6-7) at the Auburn Arena starting at 1:47 p.m.

            “It’s hard to sit there and watch because I know I can be out there helping out my teammates get wins,” Ward said. “I think I’ll be able to come in and compete.”

            With Ward, 6-foot-6 Clemson transfer Noel Johnson and injured guard Frankie Sullivan all joining the rotation next season, there appears to be brighter days on the horizon for Auburn, which needs to win one of its final three league games to avoid its worst conference mark since going 2-16 in 1988-89.
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            February 24, 2011

            Auburn hoops invited to play in Hawaiian Diamond Head Classic next December

            The Auburn basketball team will play in the 2011 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic from Dec. 22-25 next season.

            The Tigers are in a field that includes Clemson, Kansas State, Xavier, UTEP, Long Beach State, Southern Illinois and Hawaii.

            “This is part of the process in building a national program at Auburn, and it will be a wonderful experience for our players both on the court and off,” Tigers head coach Tony Barbee said.

            This is Auburn’s third trip to the Hawaiian Islands for a tournament. It won the 1998 United Airlines Tip-Off Classic in Honolulu and played in the 1996 Big Island Invitational in Hilo.
            Next season’s tournament features 12 games in three days at the Stan Sheriff Center on the University of Hawaii Campus. Each team plays in one game per day, with a bracket format.The two teams that remain undefeated throughout will face off in a championship match on Christmas day.
            Barbee, who is in his first season with Auburn, previously coached at UTEP.
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            D-line coach Clint Hurtt staying at Louisville

            After interviewing with Auburn for its vacant defensive line coach job, Clint Hurtt is staying at Louisville.

            Cardinals coach Charlie Strong tweeted today that Hurtt would be staying with the school.
            “Big news!! The big hurtt is staying with the cardinals,” he tweeted.

            Hurtt, who was ESPN’s 2011 national recruiter of the year and had ties to South Florida, reportedly interviewed in Auburn on Wednesday for the job, which came open after Tracy Rocker left to join the Tennessee Titans last week.
            Auburn is also interested in talking to former Minnesota defensive line coach Tim Cross, according to AuburnUndercover.com. Cross and current Tigers defensive coordinator Ted Roof worked together for a year in 2008 with the Golden Gophers.
            Cross, who was not in football last year, previously worked at Minnesota (2007-08, d-line), Syracuse (2005-06, d-line) and Texas (strength coach, 2001-04).
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            Lee Ziemba eyes crucial job interview at NFL Scouting Combine

            The NFL Combine starts today in Indianapolis. I caught up with Lee Ziemba, who is one of five former Auburn Tigers who will participate. Here’s how today’s story starts:

            AUBURN, Ala. — The poking, prodding and endless questions that potential NFL players must endure is nothing new for Lee Ziemba. The former Auburn offensive tackle went through the circus at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last month.
            He will face Round 2 this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in what is essentially the most important job interview of his life.

            “I’ve always been told it’s a very strenuous three days and that it really wears you out,” he said. “But I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get to the next level.”

            Ziemba is one of five former Auburn players who will participate in the combine, joining quarterback Cam Newton, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, wide receiver Darvin Adams and running back Mario Fannin.

            The weeklong event, which runs from today until March 1 at Lucas Oil Stadium, will feature more than 300 prospects put through a ringer of drills and interviews by scouts, coaches and general managers from every team in the NFL.
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            I’ll try to keep up with the combine happenings from afar. Here’s a link to the NFL’s official site, where combine times and workout figures are posted.
            Here’s the different arrival dates for the players positions, with their interview and workout schedules:
            • Wednesday – Group 1, (PK, ST, OL), Group 2 (OL), Group 3 (TE). Media interviews are Thursday, on-field drills are on Saturday.
            • Thursday – Group 4 (QB, WR), Group 5 (QB, WR), Group 6 (RB). Media interviews are on Friday, on-field drills are on Sunday.
            • Friday – Group 7 (DL), Group 8 (DL), Group 9 (LB). Media interviews are on Saturday, on-field drills are on Monday.
            • Saturday – Group 10 (DB), Group 11 (DB). Media interviews are on Sunday, on-field drills are on Tuesday.

            Tip-in with .3 seconds left crushes Auburn’s upset bid in 51-49 loss at Alabama

            TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Auburn’s three leading rebounders sat on the bench, helpless to do anything, having fouled out far earlier in a slow-paced, foul-plagued game at Coleman Coliseum.

            They could only watch as Alabama’s JaMychal Green followed up a Tony Mitchell miss with a tip-in with .3 seconds on the clock, helping the Crimson Tide avoid an NCAA tournament résumé-crushing loss in a 51-49 win Wednesday night.

            “It’s very tough to sit on the sideline and not be able to contribute,” Auburn guard Earnest Ross said of his vantage point for the final four minutes. “I wish we could have pulled it out.”

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            Allen Payne‘s desperation, fullcourt heave hit the backboard and rim for the Tigers (9-18, 2-11 SEC) but bounced out, although it was later confirmed that the shot would not have counted.

            It only added more sting to a game that, had Auburn won, would have been the most gratifying moment of Tony Barbee‘s long first season on the Plains.

            “This loss is on me because I did an awful job of teaching these guys how to win,” Barbee said. “Because that’s a game even in this environment that as bad as we played, we’ve got to figure out a way to win. And we lost it, so that’s on me.”

            Alabama (19-8, 11-2 SEC) shook off a 26 percent shooting night — its worst of the season — to avoid a loss that would have devastated its already borderline NCAA tournament credentials.

            Despite having already clinched the SEC West, the Crimson Tide entered Wednesday with an RPI of 78. The Tigers, who sit at 270, could have dragged that down considerably.

            “I’m still trying to find out how we did it,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said, looking at his team’s woeful offensive numbers. “”When you look at the numbers, it equates to a loss. …

            “I told them that this was a near-death experience. You’ve got to understand how close you came to losing some opportunities that are in front of us.”

            Auburn started hot, using a 17-2 run to lead by as many as 15 in the first half. The Tigers led for 19:15 in the first half in a building where that usually doesn’t happen. Crimson Tide opponents had led for only 48:01 of 580 minutes in the Coleman Coliseum this season.

            Alabama, meanwhile, couldn’t have struggled more. The Tide went 5-for-22 from the floor (22 percent) but managed to put together a 9-0 run just before the break to go into halftime trailing 31-25.

            The Tigers kept it going in the second half, however, taking a 41-29 lead with 11:52 on a 3-pointer in the corner by Ross, who was the team’s only double-figure scorer with 10.

            But fouls and the usual offensive shortcomings proved to be Auburn’s Achilles’ heel. The Tigers would score only two points in the next nine minutes.

            Meanwhile, the fouls piled up. Auburn had 29 in the game, watching center Rob Chubb foul out with 9:19 left, a questionable call that prompted Barbee to earn his third technical in as many games. Ross picked up his fifth foul minutes later followed by Gabriel and Adrian Forbes, three-fifths of the Tigers’ starting lineup and the majority of the team’s offense.

            “I told my guys that there’s a big difference between playing hard and fouling,” Barbee said. “They were all fouls and we put them to the foul line way too much when they were struggling to score.”
            Alabama made 27 of 40 free throws while Auburn was only 10-for-19, helping the Tide erase the 12-point deficit down the stretch.

            The Crimson Tide took a 49-47 lead with 28.4 seconds left after Green and Trevor Releford both split a pair of free throws. Auburn’s Tony Neysmith answered with a shot off the glass that tied things at 49 with 13 seconds to play.

            That set up the final play, with Green, who finished with a game-high 17, darting to the hoop to clean up Mitchell’s miss with little resistance.

            “Give them credit,” Barbee said. “They made the plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”

            Auburn returns to action Saturday at home against Arkansas starting at 1:47 p.m. ET.