BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. – Very early in Terri Williams-Flournoy’s maiden voyage as Auburn women’s basketball coach, the Tigers were complimented as “an NCAA-type team” by Arkansas head coach Tom Collen, whose nationally-ranked team had just been beaten at Auburn Arena Jan. 3.
Riding a 9-game winning streak and 12-1 at the time, the Tigers did not sustain that momentum. They never again won consecutive games, even suffering a nasty 8-game SEC losing streak and waiting 38 days in between victories.
However, the Tigers’ early success hung on to give them one more chance in a postseason event.
Auburn (16-14) earned an invitation Monday night to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, the 10th anniversary of its 2003 WNIT championship. The Tigers will host Alabama-Birmingham (18-12) Wednesday night, 6 p.m. CT at Auburn Arena.
Neither of Williams-Flournoy’s longtime predecessors, Nell Fortner (2004-12) or Joe Ciampi (1979-2004), made the postseason in either of their first two years at the helm.
“We are really looking forward to playing in the WNIT,” Williams-Flournoy said. “Making the postseason in our first season here at Auburn was a goal of ours and this will be a great experience for our players as we continue to build this program back to where it should be.”
After coaching Georgetown to the 2009 WNIT quarterfinals, Williams-Flournoy led the Hoyas to the next three NCAA brackets before her move to Auburn.
“You cannot simulate the tournament atmosphere and what it means to play for a championship,” Williams-Flournoy said. “We are excited that our young ladies will have that opportunity.”
Auburn knocked off Alabama, Missouri and Mississippi State – all at home – during the home stretch, but lost 65-62 to LSU in the SEC women’s tournament first round.
Only eight of the 64 WNIT squads will enter the tournament with a worse record than Auburn, whose total of five conference wins is tied with Kansas State for the least in the field.
Still, the Tigers earned an at-large berth with a season-ending RPI of 95, higher than WNIT foes such as Missouri, Utah and North Carolina State.
This is the school’s fourth WNIT appearance. Auburn was the 2003 WNIT champion, defeating host Baylor 64-63 in the title game. The Tigers made the 2007 quarterfinals and 2011 second round, making them 8-2 all-time in the tournament.
Three Auburn starters – forward Blanche Alverson, guard Tyrese Tanner and center Peyton Davis – played both WNIT games with the 2011 Tigers, beating Tennessee Tech and losing to Toledo.
With her next game, Alverson (123 games played entering the WNIT) will move into a tie for tenth place on the school’s all-time leaderboard. She needs 11 rebounds to become among Auburn’s top 20 career rebounders.
The SEC has four teams in the field, with Auburn joined by Arkansas, Florida and Missouri. This is the fourth year of the WNIT’s expansion from 48 to 64 teams.
Auburn is 29-4 all-time against UAB, including 15 straight wins dating back to 1992. The Tigers are 13-1 in the series of games played in Auburn.
A first-round victory would pit Auburn against the winner of Western Kentucky and East Carolina, to be played sometime between Saturday and Monday. A potential Arkansas rematch looms in the quarterfinals.
The semifinals are April 3-4, and the championship game will be April 6 at 3 p.m. ET televised by CBS Sports Network.