Defending Southeastern Conference champion Auburn brings youth to McGonigle Hall.
After a dramatic start to the season with a 82-78 victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini, the women’s basketball team must now shift its attention to the defending Southeastern Conference Champion Auburn Tigers.
Graduation took its toll on the Tigers, as seniors started at four of the five positions on last year’s squad. Though the Tigers have a different look this year, they are still a dangerous team.
The Tigers are fresh off a 70-65 victory against the Troy Trojans. Auburn started three underclassmen, with two more seeing significant playing time off the bench. Luckily for the Tigers, they still have junior guard Alli Smalley.
The 5-foot-8-inch guard from Arab, Ala., averaged 11.1 points and 2.7 rebounds per game last season. Her role is much larger this year, as she played all 40 minutes in the Troy game and scored 23 points. Despite the influx of young blood, it’s clear Smalley is still the undisputed focal point of this offense.
The lone upperclassman joining Smalley on the starting lineup is redshirt junior forward Jordan Greenleaf. Greenleaf, who appeared in five games last season before tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), averaged 25 minutes per game last season and provided a force down low in the post.
Joining Smalley and Greenleaf are sophomores Chantel Hilliard and Parisha Simmons, as well as freshman Morgan Toles.
The incoming class is a talented one, as the Tigers had the 18th best recruiting class in the nation according to ESPN.com, including the 24th best guard prospect, Nicolle Thomas. Thomas, a 5-foot-10-inch guard from Molutrie, Ga., is not afraid to shoot the ball. In just 20 minutes of play in the team’s victory against Troy, Thomas attempted 16 shots, second only to Smalley’s 20.
Fellow freshman forward Blanche Alverson will follow Thomas off the bench.
Alverson, the eighth best forward prospect in the nation according to ESPN.com, saw plenty of playing time in Auburn’s home opener, tallying 27 minutes on the court. The 6-foot-3-inch Andalusia, Ala., native provides a rebounding threat for the Tigers, recording seven boards off the bench in the Troy game.
The Owls have faced Auburn before, losing 95-76 to the Tigers last November. Despite the seemingly landslide victory for the SEC champs, the Owls trailed by a mere three points at halftime. Sloppy ballhandling put the game out of reach in the second half, coach Tonya Cardoza said.
“It was a hell of a game last year,” Cardoza said. “In the first half, we were in the game, and in the second half, we started turning the ball over.”
“I’m expecting [Auburn] to come out here and try to win the game,” Cardoza added. “We just have to be smart, know the game plan beforehand and try to execute that.”
Kyle Gauss can be reached at email@example.com.