Tournament Time for Fortner's Tigers

The 27-2 Auburn women's basketball team opens play in the SEC Tournament on Friday.

North Little Rock, Ark.--Auburn will hit the court at noon in a quarter-finals matchup vs. Ole Miss to begin play in the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament on Friday.

Coach Nell Fortner's Tigers, who won Auburn's first SEC regular season title since 1989, will be looking for their first league tournament title since 1997 and the fifth in school history.

The last time Auburn won both the tournament title and the regular season title in the same year was in 1987.

As the top seed for the tournament, the Tigers didn't have to play in Thursday's opening round when Ole Miss knocked off Arkansas to advance to Friday's game vs. the 27-2 Tigers.

"It is an exciting thing for our program to win the SEC regular season," Fortner says. "To have that goal going into the season and then actually having it happen for these players is really exciting.

"I am really proud of what we were able to accomplish in the SEC regular season," the coach says. "It's like I told them, ‘Now the next season begins.' It is exciting to see the excitement in the teams' eyes. They are focused."

Fortner's team wrapped up the regular season with an impressive 94-57 victory over Arkansas and she liked what she witnessed.

"That was some of the best basketball that I have seen in a long time," she says. "I thought how we guarded Arkansas in that on-ball screen that they run for 40 minutes was outstanding in the first half and I thought that it really set the tone for the rest of the game how we guarded and took Arkansas out of what they wanted to do.

"The players just executed the game to perfection and it paid off," she adds. "We had no turnovers in the first half and I know that I have never been associated with a team that had zero turnovers in a half so that is a first for me. And, we haven't scored more than 54 points in the first half versus any other SEC team. I was pleased with that."

Ole Miss held Auburn under its average of 78 points per game in the one regular season meeting this season between the Tigers and Rebels. Auburn won 72-65, but it wasn't easy. The Tigers led just 30-29 at halftime.

DeWanna Bonner, the SEC Player of the Year, led the Tigers in the regular season matchup with 23 points and seven rebounds. Alli Smalley scored 15 points for the Tigers and Sherell Hobbs added 11.

Whitney Boddie, who was named to the All-SEC team this week with Bonner, added eight points with 11 assists vs. the Rebels who were led by 28 points from Bianca Thomas, who hit 5-9 threes that night.

Whitney Boddie leads the SEC in assists.

Ole Miss, the ninth seed for the tournament, has a 5-9 league record and is 17-13 overall.

Fortner, who was named SEC Coach of the Year, says her team is ready to play. "I think the team knows exactly what lies ahead of them. They are very focused and goal-oriented right now so I don't have to do a lot to motivate them right now."

Fortner says she believes her team is in the running for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and notes her Tigers have a lot of play for, but they aren't alone. "Everybody goes there for that one last chance to improve their NCAA hopes, their seed. Some teams are fighting for their life, other teams are trying to play as well as they can going into the NCAA tournament."

Friday's game will be televised at noon on Fox Sports Net.

"Ole Miss has a really nice three-point shooter in Bianca Thomas," Fortner says. "She can knock some shots down and all of the sudden it is a different ball game. That is one area that makes Ole Miss very dangerous."

Thomas led the Rebels in Thursday's win vs. Arkansas with a career-high 31 points vs. Arkansas.

"They play a match-up zone defense that can give you problems," Fortner says of Ole Miss. "It will stop you and make you think a lot."

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