0

Can anyone stop Auburn sharpshooter Waller?

Photo by Jamie Martin

Photo by Jamie Martin

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- From midcourt. Blindfolded. Caromed off the scoreboard.

Auburn's Tay Waller might not be able to mimic that old Michael Jordan-Larry Bird commercial in which every shot from everywhere went through the net in a game of H-O-R-S-E. It just feels that way these days.

The Tigers' guard has made 21 3-pointers and missed only 10 in the last three games, averaging 28 points against Arkansas, Mississippi and LSU.

"I've been feeling like I can't miss," Waller said Monday. "I'm in a zone that I think everyone dreams of being in. You feel like everything you're throwing up is going to go in, and that's what's happening right now."

This kind of hot stretch hasn't happened at Auburn in 16 years. Waller is the first Tigers player since sharp-shooting All-American Wesley Person in 1994 to score 25-plus points in three consecutive Southeastern Conference games.

Waller's season got off to a slow start when he missed the first seven games with a sore quadriceps. His season average has jumped nearly two points, from 13.5 to 15.4 a game, during his current streak.

"He's been on fire for the last few games," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "It's been unbelievable."

The timing is no coincidence. Waller often went to the gym early and on the team's off days to work out. But he stopped missing any sessions at all -- and started making more shots.

"Lately, I've been making a commitment to going to the gym early," said Waller, who ranks seventh nationally in made 3-pointers per game at 3.3. "In the past, I used to go some days and not go some days. In the last three weeks, I've been there every day. That's what I should have been doing.

"I just started going every day and being in there faithfully and it's paying off."

He doesn't go into the gym determined to make a set number of shots before he can quit.

"It's just more of a feeling," Waller said. "I just feel like once I go in, I put up enough shots and if I'm satisfied how many I made, I can go. If not, I've got to shoot until I get that feeling."

Waller started the streak with a 29-point effort in a victory over Arkansas, then matched those 29 points to help the Tigers stay close in a loss at Mississippi.

He tied his career high with eight 3s against the Rebels. Waller also hit eight last season against Mississippi State, which visits the Tigers on Wednesday night.

The senior, a transfer from Okaloosa-Walton Junior College, "cooled off" with 26 points and six 3s in a win over LSU. He hasn't even had to try driving to the basket much, making only six shots from inside the 3-point line the past three games.

"I haven't felt this good since my two years at Okaloosa-Walton," Waller said. "I feel like I'm in the zone, and that I can't miss right now. When the ball leaves my hand, I always feel like it is going in. I've always been told that when you miss there is something wrong with the goal. I am just trying to keep that mentality."

Waller had hit at least half of his tries from beyond the arc in only two games coming into the Arkansas game. It took him two months to even break 20 points in a game.

Now, he's trying to end his college career in style for a team that won't have a shot at making the NCAA tournament without winning the SEC tourney.

"It's very important for me to finish strong because I started off very slow," Waller said. "That's the key."