Auburn's Hasina Muhammad has played through pain to lead Auburn's defense (Anthony Hall photo)
By Phillip Marshall
DULUTH, Ga. - Auburn's women's basketball team has an opportunity for redemption. For the second time in five days, the Tigers will play Ole Miss tonight in the Southeastern Conference Tournament at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Last Sunday, the Tigers went to Oxford and lost 73-71 in overtime. It was the Rebels' second SEC win of the season. Wednesday night, the No. 14 seed Rebels won again, knocking off No. 11 Arkansas 63-62 on Kenyotta Jenkins putback with four seconds left.
The Tigers (16-13), the No. 6 seed, and the Rebels (11-19) are scheduled to meet again at 7:30 p.m. CST.
Terri Williams-Flournoy, Auburn's second-year women's basketball coach, watched her team fall behind 12-4 at Ole Miss. It has been a recurring theme The Tigers trailed Alabama by 17 points a week ago before rallying for a 70-65 victory in double overtime.
Not since a 68-62 victory over Vanderbilt on Feb. 13 have the Tigers taken control of a game early, and Williams-Flournoy wants to know why.
"What I told the team was `whatever you are doing right now, change it. Listen to a different song, eat different food,'" Williams-Flournoy said. "We have started slow against every team since Vanderbilt. And we started against Vanderbilt great. Playing from behind takes too much energy. You never know what will happen. Let's just not put ourselves in that situation."
That means, Williams-Flournoy says, higher levels of concentration and focus.
"We have got to do things a little bit better than what we've done in the last couple of games," Williams-Flournoy said. "We have to start better. We've got to be more focused, both offensively and defensively right then, as soon as the game starts."
With their stunning loss at Ole Miss, the Tigers lost their chance to finish at .500 in the SEC and made their path to the NCAA Tournament significantly more difficult. If they are to negotiate that path, freshmen will have to play beyond their years.
"We knew starting the season that freshmen would have to play," Williams-Flournoy said. "How many we would need, we didn't know. The four that are playing, we have needed them to step up and give us some scoring and some valuable minutes. Brandy (Montgomery) has given us that scoring. Meagan (Tucker) has played well for us at the point guard position. Katie (Frerking) has been a hustle player and can get a shot, and Khady (Dieng) has really stepped up. Right now is the time you need them to play at their best."
They'll all look, Williams-Flournoy says, to senior All-SEC selection Tyrese Tanner and junior Hasina Muhammad for leadership.
"Tyrese, since the preseason started, has really stepped up her game," Williams-Flournoy said. "She has taken over games. She knows what is needed of her and can rally the team around her. Hasina has played with pain all year and if we were looking for anything to give her a boost, this was it. All the work and all the pain she has gone through, it was to add defense to this team."
Tanner leads the team in scoring with 17.1 points per game and rebounds with 6.5. Montgomery averages 11.6 points per game. Tra'Cee Tanner averages 10.4 points and 6.2 rebounds and Muhammad 10 points and 4.9 rebounds.