Not So Neutral NCAA Game Next for Tigers

Auburn will take on Rutgers at Rutgers in round two of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament on Monday night in New Jersey.

Piscataway, N.J.--Number two seed Auburn faces the challenge of having to win a "road" game on Monday to advance to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.

Tipoff is set for shortly at 6 p.m. CDT and the game will be televised on ESPN2.

Auburn, 30-3 after winning its NCAA opener 85-49 on Saturday, faces 20-12 Rutgers, a 57-51 winner over VCU on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights, a seven seed, get to play the game on their homecourt where Coach Vivian Stringer's teams have traditionally been difficult to beat.

Asked if she believes the system is unfair to teams like Auburn having to play on the homecourt of a seven seed, Coach Nell Fortner says, "We could debate all day long. The system is what it is. Until it gets changed at some level, that is just the way it is. It has been a few different ways, and this is just the way we are now, and we have to play in it.

"I am sure Rutgers feels pretty good about playing at home," the Auburn coach says. "They have been on the road many years when they have been the higher seed."

Last season Rutgers advanced to the Elite Eight in NCAA play before losing to UConn. The Scarlet Knights are led by one of the top guards in the country, 5-9 junior Epiphany Prince, who is averaging 19 points per game.

"Rutgers is a great team," Fortner says. "I can't believe they are a seventh seed. I think that is one of the biggest surprises in the bracket.

"This team is extremely talented with a great coach. They bring a tremendous amount of athleticism to the floor and size. They are very physical so it is a lot to prepare for--a whole lot to prepare for.

"The good thing for Auburn is that we play in the SEC where it is a very physical league with size so it is not like we have never seen it before so that is a good thing for us, but to play it in this environment, with the prize that awaits at the end of it, turns it into something wow--pretty big."

Rutgers has played two games against SEC opponents this season. The Scarlet Knights won a home contest vs. Georgia 45-34 in December and lost at home 55-51 vs. Tennessee. Auburn lost to Georgia 67-58 at Georgia and won the rematch 65-59 in Auburn. The Tigers won at home against Tennessee by an 82-68 score and won the rematch 78-58 in the SEC Tournament semi-finals.

After defeating Lehigh, members of the Auburn team stayed at the arena and watched Rutgers advance with a win over VCU.

"They are very good team," Auburn senior point guard Whitney Boddie says. "They are athletic, they play tough defense and they switch up their defenses in their different schemes. They have a really good crowd."

The Scarlet Knights and Tigers have two other common opponents this year. Auburn won at George Washington 65-51 in December, knocking off the team that eliminated the Tigers from the 2008 NCAA Tournament and the Tigers defeated visiting Temple 95-76 in November. Rutgers won at Temple 64-60 on Dec. 1st and won at home vs. George Washington 57-47 in a home game on Dec. 29th.

"It's going to be a great ball game," Fortner predicts. "I do know that. Both teams play great defense. Both teams have great players. Both teams can play a couple different styles of ball.

"You are going to see it is almost going to be like a chess match because you are going to see different defenses coming from both teams," the coach adds. "You are going to see different players making big shots."

In addition to Prince, the expected starters for Rutgers include 6-4 senior center Kia Vaughn (9.7 points, 7.0 rebounds), 5-9 junior guard Brittany Ray (10.0 points, 3.8 rebounds), 5-9 sophomore guard Khadijah Rushdan (6.9 points, 4.1 rebounds) and 6-1 senior forward Heather Zurich (5.6 points, 2.5 rebounds).

Auburn senior Sherell Hobbs (right) is fouled by Courtney Dentler in Auburn's victory over Lehigh on Saturday.

Fortner says the Scarlet Knights have a talented lineup with Prince leading the team.

"I have watched Epiphanny Prince since she was a freshman in high school," the Auburn coach notes. "I haven't seen anybody really slow her down. She is just a tremendous scoring guard. She is very, very difficult to contain. I am not sure we can so we will try our best and see what we can do with her. She is a phenomenal scoring guard."

Prince scored 26 points and added 11 rebounds in her team's victory over VCU. It was her fifth career double-double.

Auburn was led by senior DeWanna Bonner in its victory over Lehigh as she scored 26 points and pulled in seven rebounds. The Tigers got 11 points apiece from senior Trevesha Jackson and junior KeKe Carrier plus eight points and nine assists from Boddie.

The matchup will just be the second all-time between the Tigers and Scarlet Knights. Auburn defeated Rutgers 61-48 at the Miami Women's Classic on Jan. 5, 1985.


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