Chris Denson, Trevor Releford bright spots for Auburn, Alabama

AP Sports WriterFebruary 28, 2014 

Auburn South Carolina Basketball

Auburn Tigers Chris Denson (3) hits a 3-pointer as South Carolina Gamecocks Brenton Williams (1) guards him during an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Opelika-Auburn News, Albert Cesare)

ALBERT CESARE — AP

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Auburn's Chris Denson (Shaw) is chasing the Southeastern Conference scoring title and Trevor Releford is closing his Alabama career with his best all-around season.

The two high-scoring guards are having terrific senior seasons for teams mired near the bottom of the SEC standings going into Saturday's rivalry rematch in Coleman Coliseum.

"It's been tough with the season we're having," Releford said. "Like coach says, just worry about what you can control and just learn from it. Down the road, this losing season might help me out in another way that I don't really understand right now.

"But I know I'm going to be better for it."

On the court, both players have been better than ever, especially Denson, even as their teams struggled.

Denson is averaging a league-best 20.4 points per game and seeking to become the first Auburn player to lead the SEC in scoring since Wesley Person in 1993-94. No SEC scoring champion has averaged more than that since South Carolina's Devan Downey in 2009-10 (22.5 ppg).

"I just keep it in the back of my mind and just let the game come to me," Denson said. "Every time I force it, I don't have a good game.

"Toward the end of the season, leading the conference, I still want to go for that title, though."

He's upped his scoring average by 8.5 points from his junior season, when he only started nine games.

Denson has led the Tigers (13-13, 5-10) in scoring in 12 of 15 SEC games and had a career-high 32 points in the first meeting with Alabama (11-17, 5-10), a 74-55 Auburn victory. Only seven players nationally have attempted more free throws than his 244, and he's made 161 (66 percent).

That ability to drive and draw fouls is what stands out to Releford as he prepares for their last regular-season meeting.

"He's improved a lot every year he's been at Auburn," Releford said. "Since freshman year when we first played against each other, he's gotten a lot better. He can score the ball, and he's worked on his game. It's paying off.

"He's a great driver. He gets to the paint and gets fouls."

Releford has been one of the SEC's more versatile players and is the only double-digit scorer for Alabama.

He's fifth in the SEC in scoring at 18.9 points per game, but Releford also leads the league in steals and ranks among the top seven in six statistical categories.

"He's a special player," Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. "He's like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of point guard. He does everything well. He doesn't have weaknesses in his game. Shoots the ball from range. He creates off the dribble. He can score left hand, right hand. He's good in transition, and then obviously he plays with the poise and confidence of a senior. He's been good for our league, and he's obviously been good for Alabama."

Releford has been dealing with a bruised thigh but still played 38 minutes in Wednesday's loss to Mississippi.

"He's probably not going to be 100 percent, but he's a competitor," Tide coach Anthony Grant said. "I'm sure he'll be ready to go."

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