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February 12, 2013
AUBURN | It's no secret that guard Frankie Sullivan has been struggling lately.
The sixth-year senior has been allotted more slack from coach Tony Barbee than his teammates this season, but that might change when Auburn tips off against Arkansas Wednesday night.
"He hasn't been playing well, so I've got to do something to get his attention," Barbee said. "He didn't play well in the Kentucky game and made some bad decisions defensively, so it's time to look at someone else in that position."
The leeway Barbee gave Sullivan throughout the season was earned. On a team that struggles to score, Sullivan - the team's unquestioned leader - is fourth in the conference and single-handedly kept Auburn in several games with his offense.
Yet Sullivan has been mired in a slump since Auburn's trip to Fayetteville on Jan. 16. During the seven games since the 88-80 double-overtime loss, Sullivan has shot 9-of-39 from three-point range. Still, what forced Barbee to reconsider Sullivan's long leash wasn't his lack of offensive production during Auburn's road game against Kentucky last Saturday, but letting his 3-for-9 shooting spoil different facets of his game.
"He knows if his offense isn't going, he can affect the outcome of the game by other parts of the game - defending, rebounding, doing all the little things - and he hasn't been doing those things either," Barbee said.
After the Alabama game last Wednesday, Barbee praised Sullivan for affecting the game on the defensive end despite shooting 1-of-13 from the floor.
The tone changed after Auburn's trip to Lexington this past weekend.
Barbee said freshman guard Shaq Johnson falls into the same trap, though this is Johnson's first college season while Sullivan has been part of the program since 2008.
"You would expect that from a freshman - to let an offensive slump affect other parts of their game," Barbee said. "But for a guy like Frankie, he's beyond learning lessons. He knows what they are."
Barbee said junior guard Chris Denson is a candidate to replace Sullivan's minutes on the court. Fully covered from injuries that affected his left foot and right ankle throughout January, Barbee said Denson's defensive mindset has matched his offensive output.
"He's finally gotten the confidence back in his foot," Barbee said. "He's been active guarding the ball and has been alert and aware off the ball. I'm going to give him a look at that position for extended minutes and see if he can hold on to it."
Auburn's best chance to be successful against Arkansas is for Sullivan and Denson to both be in top offensive form. The Razorbacks are 0-8 on the road this season, but Auburn had no match for 6-foot-7 swingman Marshawn Powell during the teams' January encounter. The junior forward scored 28 points and pulled down 11 rebounds to lead Arkansas to victory.