TAMPA, FL (03/20/03) -- Current events have placed the nation's sporting scene in its proper perspective. Yet the NCAA, consulting with the White House, has decreed that its men's basketball championship tournament will go on as scheduled. And so Saint Joseph's and Auburn prepared Thursday for their first-round match-up early Friday afternoon. For Saint Joseph's (23-6, 12-4 Atlantic 10), it meant readying for the Tigers' aggressive front line. For Auburn (20-11, 8-8 SEC), it was about finding a way to counter the Hawks' backcourt quickness and team defense. "We're going to start in the lane, build our defense in the lane, and work our way out from there," said junior guard Tyrone Barley, who sets the tone for SJU's D. "They get most of their points in the paint. We're going to try to cut down dribble penetration and take it from there. Make them work to bring the ball up the court and after that take away points in the paint." Senior center Alexandre Sazonov leads a rotation of Hawks in the post who will be responsible for containing Marquis Daniels, Marco Killingsworth, and Kyle Davis once the ball makes it inside. "All their points are lay-ups and dunks," said Sazonov. "It starts with the lane. We have to do our work inside. We have to rebound, block shots, deny the ball." As has been the case over the past several games, the playing status of sophomore guard Delonte West will be a game-time decision. West has been limited to bench duty lately while nursing a stress fracture in his right fibula. Head coach Phil Martelli said the A-10 first-team pick practiced well Thursday morning, but still doesn't have complete confidence yet. "He certainly looked close," Martelli noted. "He's not all the way there." Martelli said he was leaning toward starting Barley in West's place, but would wait until Friday to decide. The Tigers praised Saint Joseph's quickness and noted the importance of playing fundamental basketball against the Hawks' large frontcourt. "They're extremely quick," said Auburn head coach Cliff Ellis. "They remind me of Ole Miss -- a lot of pressure on the ball and picking up and making it tough to make passes. We've seen that throughout the year. At this point in time you really are not going to face anything you haven't seen, usually. We kind of relate it to the way Ole Miss plays." The Tigers swept their season series with Mississippi, winning at home, 77-71, and on the road, 80-75. Auburn guard Derrick Bird talked about the potential difficulty in staying with Saint Joseph's superlative point guard, Jameer Nelson, who has averaged 28 points over his last five games. "He's a very good player," Bird said. "He can shoot the ball well and can penetrate. And he sets his teammates up well. He's just a well-rounded, complete player. He can rebound, too. I have to play defense on all aspects. We're looking forward to D-ing up and helping each other out. All their guards are very good." Players and coaches from both teams acknowledged the ongoing military action against Iraq and expressed gratitude for what American troops are doing. "We understand that we're very fortunate to be in the situation we're in," said Nelson. "I heard a couple of guys say if we make mistakes, we go home. If they make mistakes, it's possible for them to die. My prayers are with all of them and their families. We have to take care of business just like they have to take care of business." "The young men and women who are fighting and their families, you have to keep them in your thoughts and prayers," Martelli added. "It's a very somber time. It's only by the grace of God these kids are here and some of their buddies and kids the same age aren't coming home." Tip-off is at 12:25 p.m. The game will be televised by CBS, whose feed will shift to ESPN if the network is covering military matters while the game is being played. Carrying the game on radio will be WPEN/950-AM, with streaming audio available through www.sjuhawks.com. --Tom Durso/Saint Joseph's University Communications
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