Tigers To Open SEC Tournament vs. Gators

The Auburn women's basketball team is in a win or go home for the season situation as the Tigers open play at the SEC Tournament.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn will try to extend its season as the Tigers open postseason play on Thursday in the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga., vs. the Florida Gators.

Coach Nell Fortner's team, which has been a model of inconsistency, takes a 14-15 record into the tournament. Florida is also 14-15, but is 7-9 in the SEC while Auburn is just 5-11.Tipoff is scheduled for around 1:30 p.m. CST and the game will televised regionally on Fox Sports Net.

One of the victories for the Lady Gators came in Gainesville vs. Auburn.

"We played Florida in our second game of the conference season," Fortner recalls. "It was one of our best second halves of the conference season. We were down 18 at the half and came back and tied it and took it into two overtimes. We ended up losing, but I thought our effort was great in the second half. We played some good ball and I hope we can re-enact that for 40 minutes this time."

Junior guard Alli Smalley leads the Tigers. Selected to the All-SEC second team by the league's coaches, she is averaging 15.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.

"I think it is so well deserved," Fortner says of Smalley's honor. "Alli has been our go-to player all year. Not only did we ask her to score more this year, but she has also played a lot of minutes this year. She has elevated her game to a place where she can score in many ways, not just catch and shoot.

"She moves well with out the ball, she constantly gets face guarded against the toughest defender and she consistently scores for us. I am very proud of her."

Point guard Morgan Toles was selected to the Coaches All-SEC Freshman Team. "Morgan Toles has had an outstanding freshman year," Fortner says. "She's such a hard worker and we asked her to do a lot as a freshman --run the team, score, defend. She is in tremendous shape."

Toles is averaging 7.3 points and 4.4 assists per game.

"She is a physically gifted athlete," Fortner adds. "She played a large amount of minutes for a freshman and has been one of our primary scorers on top of that. That is a tough role to play, but she has handled that nicely. I look forward to coaching her for the rest of her career."

If the Tigers defeat Florida, they will face Kentucky in the quarter-finals, the team Auburn defeated on Sunday to close the regular season.

"It is going to be a good SEC Tournament this year with a lot of opportunities for people," Fortner contends. "I think it's a wide open tournament, more so than it ever has been, because of the way the season turned out. There was a four-way tie for third with a lot of teams that had beaten each other. It is going to be an interesting tournament and we are looking forward to playing in it."

Fortner says she believes her team will be excited about the rematch vs Florida.

"I think they will remember the last game, it has been one that we remembered all season," the coach says. "It gave us an opportunity to see what we were capable of. The SEC season is much more physical than pre-conference and it gives these young players a chance to experience SEC play. Morgan Toles had a good game in that game, we grew up a little bit. We left that game and we went and beat LSU in Baton Rouge in overtime so it gave us a great deal of confidence. We all remember that game."

Fortner says she has seen signs of her team improving after slumping earlier in the conference season.

"I think we have made good strides in the past few weeks," she says. "I think there was a shift in focus from some of our players we depend on and KeKe Carrier is one of them. This is it for her and I think she has had some nice games the last few games and we hope we can keep her down that path."

Carrier, a 6-7 center, is the team's only senior. "She's being more assertive," Fortner says. "Keke is such a nice person and sometimes she brings that onto the court. She needs to check that at the door and bring your toughness with you. She is finding a way to do that and that's definitely a good thing for us."

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