Katie Frerking (13) and Janiah McKay (33) celebrate Auburn's win vs. St. John's in NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament/
Waco, Tex.--Freshman point guard Janiah McKay scored a season-high 24 points to lead Auburn to a 68-57 victory over St. John’s on Friday night in the opening round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
The Tigers will advance to a 6 p.m. CDT contest on Sunday vs. No. 1 seed Baylor, which defeated Idaho earlier on Friday.
McKay made 9-14 field goals and used her quickness on defense to help force 25 turnovers by the Big East Tournament champion.The Tigers converted those turnovers into 32 points as they improved their record to 20-11.
"I can't even begin to tell you how excited and proud I am of my young ladies to come out and play defense as impressive as they did," Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. "It goes to show you how much they have bought into our defense and how they've continued to play it day in, day out and how we knew we had to get after St. John's."
Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy (left) talks with senior center Tra'Cee Tanner.
Sophomore forward Jazmine Jones scored 13 points while junior guard Brandy Montgomery added 11 points for the Tigers. Jones also helped the Tigers by drawing two charging fouls in the final three minutes.
Senior center Tra’Cee Tanner scored six points while adding a team-high eight rebounds as Auburn finished plus six in rebound margin.
Junior guard Katie Frerking added six rebounds and a team-high six assists. Erica Sanders chipped in with eight points in a reserve role.
"Any time I play I don't really think about my stats," said McKay. "I'm more concerned with my team winning. Kudos to Tra 'Cee Tanner and Jessica Jones for setting great screens, which allowed me to get open. Coach always told me, stay aggressive, stay aggressive. When I keep pressure on the defense, it makes it easier to get Brandy Montgomery open or Katie Frerking."
McKay’s 24 points matched the most ever for an Auburn freshman in an NCAA Tournament game. It was previously done by guard Tiffany Krantz on March 14, 1997 vs. Louisville.
Auburn made 27-58 field goals (46.6 percent), 3-12 threes and 11-22 free throws while turning the ball over 17 times.
St. John’s, which ends its season with a 23-10 record, made 22-46 field goals (47.8 percent), 5-10 threes and 8-13 free throws. Danaejah Grant scored 25 points for the Red Storm.
Williams-Flournoy said McKay's scoring was a key to the victory on a night when the top three scorers, Montgomery, Tanner and Frerking, did not shoot the ball well.
"All season long we've talked about the big three and we also talked about when the big three aren't producing, how tough it is for us," the coach said. "We didn't have the big three producing tonight offensively. We still did our job defensively. For Janiah McKay to give us the scoring lift that we needed was absolutely huge."
McKay's previous high was 23 points in a road victory at Towson and her third highest scoring game was a 20 points night in the season opener vs. UAB.
Janiah McKay launches a shot for the Tigers.
The Tigers opened the game with strong defense, allowing them to build the lead to 19-4 on a basket by McKay at the 2:25 mark of the first period. Auburn held St. John’s to six points in the first period, the Red Storm’s lowest-scoring quarter of the season and the second best defensive quarter for the Tigers this season behind a game vs. Florida on Feb. 14th when the Gators scored just five points.
The margin ballooned to 19 points in the second period on basket by Jazmine Jones at the 7:28 mark of the second quarter. However, by halftime the Red Storm trimmed the lead to 31-23.
The Tigers led 44-37 after three quarters before outscoring St. John’s 24-20 in the final quarter as Auburn hit 72.7 percent of its shots in the final period.
Auburn improved its record to 30-18 in NCAA Tournament games.
“When we come out on the defense right from the jump, it gives us the energy we need and it makes our offense,” Williams-Flournoy said. “It's really good for us.”
Sunday's matchup will be just the second ever between Auburn and Baylor. The Tigers in the WNIT Championship Game on April 3, 2003, the last time the Bears lost a game on their homecourt to a non-conference team. This year's game will be televised on ESPN2.