Wednesday night the Tigers will battle the 21-10 Richmond Spiders, who recorded their first ever postseason win against Georgetown in the first round of the tournament and are making their first post-season appearance in 12 years. Both teams will be energized for the contest, with a berth in the WNIT final four looming for the winner.
The Spiders, who are led by first year coach Joanne Boyle, will provide a tough test for the Tigers considering that Auburn will be without starting center Mandisa Stevenson. Out indefinitely with a fractured bone in the back of her hand suffered in the last five minutes of the Tigers second round game against Florida State, Stevenson leaves a void in the middle that Auburn hopes to replace with athleticism.
The loss of Stevenson and her 7.2 points per game will certainly be difficult for the Tigers to deal with in this game. However, Coach Joe Ciampi notes that the toughest transition will be on the defensive side of the ball. "We are going to have to re-address our defensive scheme and move some things around," Ciampi said. "Against a team like Richmond, offensively, they can shoot the ball so well and they have a great force on the inside that it brings a lot of concerns."
Still, Ciampi says that he already has a very specific idea of how the loss of Stevenson will affect the lineup. "We will move (Le'Coe) Willingham to the four position and LaKeisha (Johnson) will move to the three," Ciampi explains. "We have to move from a team of strength to a team of quickness now. We will bring in Dani Kubik in off the bench to sub for Le'Coe and will bring in Louise (Emeagi) to sub for LaKeisha."
The key for the Tigers will certainly be finding a way to stop the strong frontcourt tandem of senior center Ebony Tanner, who averages 15.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, and sophomore forward Kate Flavin, who averages 14.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. The duo will challenge Auburn's already thin frontcourt and slowing them down will be a major challenge for the Tigers.
"In the Richmond game, they have two top scorers in Tanner and Flavin," Ciampi said. "One is averaging 16 points a game and the other is averaging 15 points a game, one is averaging 10 rebounds a game and one is averaging eight rebounds a game. So, their heart and soul are those two players and we have to address that."
Tia Miller has played well for the Tigers in the first two WNIT games.
Offensively for the Tigers, getting good inside play and hitting their open looks will be key. Tia Miller must take her 9.8 points per game and play a bit bigger inside as she's done in each of Auburn's first two wins in the WNIT. Along with Miller, Willingham and Johnson's production at the three and four spots will be key. Also the Tigers will have to get some quality minutes from their inside depth with a pair of freshmen in Kubik and Marita Payne coming off the bench.
So far, the Tigers' decision to enter the WNIT for the first time seems to be a wise one and Ciampi said the he has seen so positive signs from the tournament experience so far.
"We are growing as a team together, Ciampi explained. "I have seen in the postseason a greater respect for each other. I respect them more, but they are helping one another in technique, praising one another and communicating, which we didn't have before. These two weeks, no matter what happens, have been good for us. We can only get better from here."
The Tigers' third round WNIT game with Richmond begins at 7 p.m. at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. Admission for the game is eight dollars for adults and two dollars for students or children 12 and under. Any fans attending the game will receive a free popcorn and they can purchase Coke products for half price throughout the game.