Auburn coach Karen Hoppa said the Tigers need to forget about their strong run in the conference tournament and focus on defeating the Aggies. The match is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Central at the Auburn Soccer Complex.
This is Auburn's sixth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament and 10th overall. Only Florida with 15 appearances has more among SEC teams.
"The big key is to get past the SEC championship," Hoppa said. "We have got to get focused on a new mission. We were so focused last week. We put every bit of mental and physical focus we had into winning that championship so we took a few days off before we went back to work.
Katy Frierson scores a goal in the SEC Tournament in Orange Beach.
"I told them that we have got to play with the same intensity and desire, and defend the same way we did in the SEC Tournament," Hoppa said. "That is going to be a key for us to make an NCAA run."
Utah State brings a 15-4-2 record into the match. "From what we understand, they're similar to us," Hoppa said about the Aggies' style of play. "It's a possession style. They like to get it and keep it, knock it around and they have a couple really dynamic attacking players. Their mid and center forwards are really great."
Hoppa said her Tigers have been up and down this season. "The first game of the year we weren't happy with our performance," she said of her team's 0-0 tie vs. Memphis. That was followed by a 4-1 loss to 18th-ranked Wake Forest. After that the Tigers won nine of their next 10 games and tied the other one.
"The good thing about this team is they know how to respond and the way they responded was they weren't happy with their performance," Hoppa noted "They were embarrassed, disappointed and all those things so they made up their minds we're going to be better."
Hoppa said the Tigers then had a late season dropoff. "We had a little lull in SEC play when we did lose Tatiana Coleman and that hurt us, but that wasn't the reason. We just got a little complacent and weren't playing with the same intensity. We weren't defending as well as we're capable so it was interesting the way our team responded because they were really, really disappointed with finishing seventh in the league."
The Tigers are led by Katy Frierson, a four-time first All-SEC midfielder. She scored two goals and assisted on the other one in the SEC Championship Game. She has 102 career points and is the first player in Auburn history to top the century mark.
Another senior, Julie King, shared SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors and was named a first team All-SEC player for a second consecutive season.
Auburn keeper Amy Howard had two shutouts in the SEC Tournament and made the all-tournament team along with King, Frierson and junior midfielder Ana Cate.
Hoppa said the 2011 Tigers are Auburn's most talented team since 2004 and have a chance to do well in NCAA play if they perform to their potential. "The way we're playing right now, anything is possible," the coach said.
If Auburn wins on Saturday the Tigers, who are one of four national No. 3 seeds, will play the winner of the LaSalle at Maryland game on Friday at a site still to be determined.