Emeagi, Tigers Looking to Earn NCAA Tourney Bid

Auburn, Ala.--Louise Emeagi, an outspoken leader and starting forward on the Auburn women's basketball team, had never heard of Auburn three years ago.

The energetic, athletic junior was halfway around the globe in Melbourne, Australia, when she was recruited to play for the Tigers by former director of basketball operations Samantha Tomlinson.

"Tomlinson is Australian and she recruited me to come play here," Emeagi says. "I didn't know what Auburn was or where it was. I was 20 at the time. I finished high school at 18 and went to a university back home (Our Lady of Sion College), but I never played."

Emeagi joined the Auburn basketball program halfway through the 2002-2003 season and averaged only 4.3 points and 1.9 rebounds as a freshman. However, having grown up in an athletic family, Emeagi always had the potential to become a big-time player.

"My dad (Victor) was a soccer player and my mom (Pamela) played netball, which you Americans wouldn't be too familiar with," Emeagi notes. "It's a bit like basketball except there's no contact and you can't dribble the ball. You pass the ball, you can't run with it and you don't have a backboard, you have a little net. The Jamaicans, the British, South Africans--mainly the colonial powers--they play netball."

Louise, at 6-1, got her athletic ability from her parents and learned the game of basketball from her older sister, Chika.

"My sister started playing when she was six and I was five," Emeagi says. "I pretty much followed in her footsteps. She was a really good junior basketball player in Australia, definitely. She was probably the best female athlete in her age group."

Making the move to the States easier for Emeagi, fellow Australian and current teammate Marita Payne joined the Auburn program for the 2002-2003 season.

"I knew Marita," Emeagi says. "I heard all about that tall, lanky girl. We played with and against each other."

Louise Emeagi is perhaps the best athlete on the Auburn team.

Now as a 22-year-old junior, Emeagi has been a key member of first-year head coach Nell Fortner's team, which has made a late push for an NCAA bid. Playing in the toughest conference in the country, as well as playing a tough out of conference schedule, the Tigers finished the regular season at 15-12 overall and 6-8 in league play. The Tigers will need to do very well at the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament that starts on Thursday in Greenville, S.C., if they are going to receive serious consideration for an NCAA bid.

Emeagi is having her best season at Auburn, averaging 12.2 points and 6.5 rebounds. Although she has an unorthodox shooting motion, the end results have been good for her as she has knocked down 40-101 three-point attempts for 39.6 percent and 56-65 foul shots, good for 86.2 percent.

Although she is known mostly as a shooter, Emeagi says that she enjoys more of a physical style of play. She played the final two games of the regular season with stitches above her right eye.

"It happened against LSU at the end of the game when (Scholanda) Hoston barreled right through me and ended up clipping me with an elbow in the eye," she says.

"Blood started gushing down my eye," she adds emphatically. "It's still quite purple and it was two weeks ago that I did it. It's very sore. I got my stitches out Tuesday and it was pretty red and gory."

The Tigers got off to a rough start to the 2004-2005 season at 10-9 overall and 1-6 in the SEC in part due to a tough schedule, but it was also partially because of a change of coaching philosophies from former coach Joe Ciampi to Fortner.

Although it took time for the Tigers to get used to the new command and playing mostly man-to-man defense under Fortner after playing exclusively zone defense under Ciampi, Emeagi says she believes the coaching switch is a blessing in disguise.

"It took us all a little bit of getting used to Coach Fortner," Emeagi notes. "From my prospective I think it was the best that could happen to me because she's helped improve my attitude and she's really encouraging us to stay positive.

"She addresses different players in different ways and she motivates people in different ways because people respond differently," she adds. "I think she's an awesome coach, an awesome person and the best thing that could have happened to Auburn."

Auburn suffered an overtime loss at Mississippi State to end the regular season, which could have almost guaranteed the Tigers an NCAA bid. Emeagi and the Tigers will head to Greenville to play Kentucky at 2:15 p.m. CST on Thursday in the SEC tournament to try to finish the late-season rally. If Auburn defeats the Lady Kats, always strong Tennessee will be waiting in round two.

"We had a pretty good showing against Kentucky last time we played them and that was without our big shot-blocking star Marita Payne," Emeagi says. "We should beat Kentucky and we're expected to win. We feel like we need to get a win against a Top 25 team, which means beating Tennessee."


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