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January 15, 2013

Led by scorching seniors Chubb and Sullivan, Auburn hoops suddenly the talk of the SEC

LSU Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. – Through one week of SEC play, five teams are 2-0 against league opponents.

None stirred up more discussion on Monday’s SEC coaches teleconference than Auburn, for a couple of reasons.

It’s a modest start, yes, but it’s something – the first time Auburn has won consecutive games to open a conference slate since the 2002-03 campaign, when the Tigers started 4-0 and ultimately made the NCAA Sweet 16, losing by a point to eventual national champion Syracuse.

It’s a continuation of a resurgence – Auburn is 6-2 since the calendar flipped to December, and other than league triumphs over LSU and at South Carolina, that includes a tight loss in Chicago to then-No. 12 Illinois and a home victory over Florida State.

The surprising spurt is one thing. So is the obvious leadership shown by seniors Frankie Sullivan and Rob Chubb, the latter of whom has rebounded from a lackluster non-conference stretch.

“They’re playing like seniors. They’re playing confident,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “This time of the year is when seniors and veteran players have got to take over.”

Chubb produced 16 points, 10 rebounds and three steals in a 74-71 victory at South Carolina Saturday.

“He’s a senior. He understands the game. He understands angles, understands where he belongs,” Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said. “That’s what seniors do for you, they take care of business for you. They make the simple plays – they’re not caught up in the charades of making a spectacular play.

“On top of that, him and Tony have been together for three years, so they understand each other and he understands what Tony wants.”

Over his last four games – all against enhanced competition – Chubb has stepped up, averaging 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds. Previously, his clips were 9.2 points and 7.4 boards.

“He’s giving them a presence inside,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “Being a veteran and going through the wars, the light starts clicking.”

Chubb has one of the league’s larger frames at 6-foot-10, and he’ll match up Wednesday with similarly-sized Hunter Mickelson when Auburn (8-7, 2-0 SEC) plays at Arkansas (10-5, 1-1) at 8 p.m. ET on SEC Network.

“He’s a load down there in the low post; he’s got great size and strength, and very competitive as well,” added LSU coach Johnny Jones. “And Sullivan’s just a tremendous player – you know what you’re going to get from him night in and night out.”

Sullivan has been consistent all year long, averaging 17.2 points a game. He has eight different efforts of 20-plus points; for comparison, Kentucky’s the only team with 10 individual outputs of 20 or more, and Sullivan has more of those than nine SEC squads combined.

“Frankie’s always been a scorer,” Anderson said. “He has a legacy down there in the high school ranks. Then obviously he’s had some injuries, but that tells you the makeup of Frankie. He’s a fighter, he’s a warrior, and I think he’s persevered.”

While his colleagues lauded Chubb and Sullivan, Barbee brought it back to what he’s preached the past couple of months: for Auburn to thrive, Chubb and Sullivan need help.

They’re finally getting it.

“The younger guys – Brian Greene, Shaquille Johnson, Jordon Granger, Asauhn Dixon-Tatum – all the new guys this year are finally starting to understand what it takes to compete and win at this level,” Barbee said. “The chemistry between the older and younger guys is starting to converge because those younger guys are catching up to speed.”

After Auburn returns from Fayetteville’s Bud Walton Arena – where the Razorbacks are 10-1 this season, and Auburn is 2-17 all-time – the Tigers return home against Kentucky Saturday, a game which Auburn University announced has been sold out.

It’s Auburn Arena’s first sellout since last year’s tilt against Kentucky, ranked second at the time. Auburn has declared Saturday night’s showdown an ‘Orange Out’, asking fans to wear orange shirts.

Former Auburn All-American Mike Mitchell, who passed away on June 9, 2011, is having his No. 30 jersey posthumously retired before Saturday’s game. Head football coach Gus Malzahn is scheduled to speak to the crowd at halftime.

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