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Guest Analyst

Wake Forest-Auburn: This game will be won on the boards

By DIGGER PHELPS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2003


Digger Phelps joined ESPN as a college basketball studio and game analyst in November 1993. He works in the studio each Monday and Tuesday, and calls select games. He also teams with Dick Vitale to provide studio and on-site analysis during Championship Week and the Final Four. Phelps served as a college basketball analyst for CBS for the 1992 and '93 NCAA championships, handling studio and game analysis. During his 20 seasons as coach at Notre Dame (1972-91), Phelps won more games (393) than any coach in Irish history. He spoke with Times TV/radio writer John C. Cotey and analyzed today's Wake Forest-Auburn game:

Wake Forest is the best rebounding team in the country, and that's the one thing that always keeps them in games. They can always rely on that. I think you have to look at (Friday's) game, and even though they struggled, that first game for the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds is always hard. Look what Holy Cross did to Kansas last year. Those bottom 2 or 3 seeds, they get excited by these (higher-seeded) teams. You saw what Butler did, and you saw what UNC-Wilmington did. That's the confidence these teams have.

But Wake Forest won, and even without a big game from Josh Howard. I don't think anybody is jumping off anybody's bandwagon.

Auburn, they just made a statement. That was important for them. They came out and beat St. Joe's to prove they should be there.

The key to the game is how Auburn rebounds the ball. Obviously, the boards will be a huge factor in this game. They have been a factor all year long, and Auburn will find out that St. Joe's is not as good a rebounding team as Wake Forest.

Auburn has to beware of a letdown. I think the first four minutes of the game will be crucial. Auburn has to come out fired up and say, "Let's not stop here. We won that first game, now let's move forward." Look at Illinois Saturday. They came out flat and were behind the whole game. You can't assume you'll come out and be able to just get ahead.

One thing about Wake Forest, I think (coach) Skip (Prosser) has really done a great job emphasizing offensive rebounding and convincing them if you play decent defense you will stay in ballgames.

Josh Howard did not have a big game, but he has to come out and get his 30 or 25. And you want to know if the youth factor shows up for Wake Forest, with only two seniors.

Howard has to play big. He has to take the game under his control and dominate. He didn't play well in first game, when you look at points and what he didn't do, and had a quiet first half to finish with 12 points. That's not his game to me, even though he had 13 rebounds. He has to put offensive numbers on the board.

Auburn's Marquis Daniels is as good as any player in the country. The Tigers have a lot of confidence now, and have to know they can't stop here. They have to move forward and forget about what they didn't do to get in.

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