Jazmine Jones (15) and Janiah McKay (33) try to force a turnover in their victory over St. John's on Friday.
Waco, Tex.--If Auburn is going to pull off a major upset of No. 1 seed Baylor in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, the Tigers will need their full-court pressure defense to lead the way.
The Tigers and Bears will tip off shortly after 6 p.m. CDT on Sunday at the Ferrell Center, which is Baylor’s home court, a place where they have not lost a game to a non-conference opponent since Auburn won there in 2003 in the National Women's Invitational Tournament ?championship game.
Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy was pleased with the Tigers making 13 steals and forcing 25 turnovers in her team’s 68-57 victory over St. John’s on Friday night to advance to the second round NCAA Tournament matchup vs. the Bears. The Tigers are 9-1 this season when forcing 25 or more turnovers.
“The first thing we look at is how many turnovers we forced, how many steals did we have,” Williams-Flournoy said of how her team analyzes their performance at the end of games.
The coach said her players understand what they need to do defensively to be successful. “We have a goal sheet up in the locker room and we have about 10 goals that we want to get on the defensive end, and about five of those comes from out of our press.”
Auburn scored 32 points off of turnovers on Friday night, the fourth highest total of the season for the 20-11 Tigers.
“Our press is designed to give up long contested threes, but above all it is to try to get steals and go in transition,” said senior center Tra’Cee Tanner. “We score best in transition so if we can get that, and we are aggressive on offense when we are setting our press all night, it makes it an easier night for us instead of having to go and set up and run plays in the half court.
“It is designed to get teams rattled,” Tanner said in describing Auburn’s defense. “We are going at teams to get traps and just be aggressive the whole time. We have worked hard on it and we are in shape to play for 40 minutes so it makes it at lot easier when we are playing aggressive.”
No matter how aggressive the Tigers are they are going to have a difficult time defeating a Baylor team that is ranked No. 4 nationally. The Bears posted a 19-0 record at home this season and enter Sunday’s contest with a 21-game winning streak.
In the only previous meeting between the Tigers and Bears, Auburn won a thriller 13 years ago by a score of 64-63 for AU’s only NWIT championship when Joe Ciampi was the head coach.
Williams-Flournoy said that is interesting, but added, “The teams are different, the coaches are different and the players are different so it really doesn't make that much of a difference.”
Terri Williams-Flournoy (left) has a 4-2 record in NCAA Tournament games after winning her first one as head coach of the Tigers. Tra'Cee Tanner (44) is the only senior in Auburn's starting lineup.
Baylor cruised past Idaho in their opening round game, winning 89-59 while holding the Vandals to 33.3 shooting while making 50 percent of their shots, including 9-22 three pointers.
For the season the Bears are averaging 78.1 points per game while making 48.7 percent of their shots, 37.4 percent of their threes and 66.3 percent at the foul line. Opponents are averaging just 53.3 points per game and making 33.0 percent of their field goals.
Nina Davis, the 2015 Big 12 Player of the Year, is a 5-11 forward who leads the Bears. She averages a team-best 15.7 points and a team-leading 6.2 rebounds. Alexis Jones, a 5-9 junior guard, is averaging 14.9 points and has 151 assists, second on the team to Niya Johnson's 302. The All-Big 12 senior guard, who is five-foot-eight, is averaging 7.0 points.
Baylor has five players six-foot-three or taller led by 6-7 freshman Kalani Brown, who is averaging 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds.
In their opening round victory the Tigers were led by 24 points from Janiah McKay, which was her season high. Williams-Flournoy pointed out that it was exciting to see McKay perform so well.
“When you look at a freshman point guard, playing their first year in the NCAA Tournament, this is a big stage for her to be on,”? AU's coach said. “It was already huge being that freshman in the SEC, one of the toughest conferences, and now coming to the NCAA Tournament for the first year it's like, ‘oh, my gosh.’ so when she knocked that first shot down I was really happy because the last thing you need is for your point guard to be shaky.”