Brandy Montgomery (10), Katie Frerking (13) are among Auburn's top freshmen (Anthony Hall photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala -- Second-year Auburn women's basketball coach Terri Williams-Flournoy still shakes her head at what might have been. If the Tigers had not lost at last-place Ole Miss in the final game of the regular season or if they'd found a way to just one more close game, they'd probably be getting ready to play in the NCAA Tournament.
"It's tough," Williams-Flournoy said. "We didn't get it done."
But Auburn still has basketball to play. The Tigers (17-14) will play Southern Conference runner up Furman (18-12) tonight in the first round of the WNIT at Auburn Arena. Tipoff is set for 6.
"You get to be part of the group that is still playing late in March, and that's always exciting," Williams-Flournoy said. "A lot of teams are sitting at home. That's not where you want to be."
With six freshmen and two first-year junior college transfers on the roster, Williams-Flournoy said the extra games and extra practices will be valuable.
"It's very valuable," Williams-Flournoy said. "We could go straight into postseason conditioning, but when you practice and they know they have games to play, it keeps them focused."
But Williams-Flournoy makes it clear her focus isn't on next season. It's on this tournament and this season. Auburn's next loss will be the last for seniors Tyrese Tanner and Peyton Davis, but their roles won't change until that happens.
"Oh, no," Williams-Flournoy said. "We are trying to win a championship. You think I'm going to sit Tyrese down? Absolutely not. We've had a lot of young kids play anyway. It's just more experience for them."
Auburn advanced to the WNIT quarterfinals last season before losing to eventual champion Drexler. Williams-Flournoy wants more this season.
"They understand the run we made last year, and that we want to do even better this year," Williams-Flournoy said. "That's what we've explained to them. We've been here before, but let's improve on that."
Freshman Brandy Montgomery averaged 29.5 minutes per game for the Tigers in the regular season. Her 11.5 points per game average was second only to Tanner's 17 points per game. Katie Frerking and Meagan Tucker each averaged more than 20 minutes per game. Junior college transfer guard Kiani Parker started 26 games at point guard. Six newcomers averaged 10 minutes per game or more.
They've made progress, Williams-Flournoy says, but not enough. Not yet.
"You look at them from when they thought they were going to die and couldn't feel their legs and couldn't breathe to being able to stand strong now, and you see how much they have grown," Williams-Flournoy said.
"They can explain things to us and actually draw it up, but applying it on the floor has been tough this year for some of the freshmen. That is one thing we really have to work on this summer, getting them to not only understand but apply everything they know to the floor."
If the Tigers are to make another WNIT run, newcomers will have to make major contributions. But Tanner, Williams-Flournoy says, will be called on to show the way again.
"Tyrese is just a great young lady, has a great personality," Williams-Flournoy said. "She figured out how to work hard after a few battles last year. Stepping into this year, she had to take on a different role, not only being our top scorer but being a leader for eight newcomers. That's not in a position she was used to being in. I thought Tyrese grew not only as a player but as a person."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: