Second WBB Scouting Report: Auburn

The Vanderbilt Commodores, as expected, were not able to sweep Tennessee. What wasn't expected was the extent to which they were outclassed this past Monday. Can this team calmly regroup and do what it needs to do against Auburn?


Vanderbilt faced long odds against Tennessee – everyone in the SEC and in the women's college basketball community knew as much heading into Monday night's game. Yet, it was a bit startling that Tennessee was able to win as convincingly as it did. Vanderbilt played so well the first time against the Lady Vols that the extent of the reversal in the rematch represented a substantial jolt. A 180-degree change (or at the very least, a 135-degree change) is regularly a shock to the system.

One thing is worth saying, though, with the benefit of hindsight: The Commodores' performance was not unprecedented within the course and context of this season. This reality sets the stage for tonight's next SEC rematch with Auburn, a team Vanderbilt handled on the Alabama Plains last month.

Yes, Vanderbilt's loss to Tennessee – more specifically, the lack of a consistent, coherent offense – was not an aberrational event within a narrow frame of reference. The Commodores' offense was stuck in the muck following a one-week break. You might recall that the last time Vanderbilt took a week off, its offense did not respond well following the extended period of time away from the court. VU's offense sputtered in a 61-57 loss at home to South Carolina. A team that had found a good working rhythm was unable to sustain it. This pattern was in evidence on Monday in Knoxville.

With the past serving as prelude, it's now up to coach Melanie Balcomb to ensure that her team doesn't fall victim to a separate pattern: the hangover after the post-break loss.

Following Vanderbilt's loss to South Carolina, the Commodores weren't able to regroup – not in the next game, at any rate. VU fell at Missouri in the one SEC game this team had no business dropping. Will Vanderbilt's players take the court tonight against Auburn with visions of the Tennessee loss dancing in their heads? Maybe the memory of Monday night doesn't have to be expunged – that might be too big (and unrealistic) a request to make of the Dores. However, if this team does carry the memory of the Tennessee loss into tonight's contest, VU must do so with the intent to learn lessons and correct errors from the past.

It's true that Vanderbilt is entering what should be the most manageable stretch of its SEC schedule, which was front-loaded. However, the Missouri game should have been manageable as well, and VU didn't win it. It's time for this team to respond to a difficult defeat at the hands of an in-state rival with poise and maturity.

AUBURN AT-A-GLANCE

The Tigers, at 4-6 in the SEC, have established a clear trend in both their league wins and losses. In each of Auburn's six SEC losses, the Tigers have given up at least 71 points. In three of their four conference victories, the Tigers have allowed no more than 48 points. The defense is the bellwether for this team, not the offense. Vanderbilt – which lost that Missouri game because of a terrible offensive performance – must be ready to execute its halfcourt sets with precision. If VU establishes itself at the offensive end, Auburn will have a hard time keeping pace. AU coach Terri Williams-Flournoy has to know this.

Starting Lineup

Center/Forward – Tra'Cee Tanner –
Sophomore, 6-3; 2013-14: 15.3 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game, 2.2 assists per game, 2 steals per game

Tanner's scoring average has dropped by an average of 1.1 points per game since the last time these teams met on Jan. 9. Her other averages have barely changed.

Forward/Guard – Tyrese Tanner – Senior, 6-1; 2013-14: 10.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg,, 1.2 steals per game, 1.3 blocked shots per game

The other Tanner in the Auburn lineup has compensated for Tra'Cee's diminished level of scoring production. Tyrese Tanner's scoring average has risen by a point over the past five weeks.

Guard – Hasina Muhammad – Junior, 6-1; 2013-14: 11.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.9 apg, 2.5 steals per game, 1.9 blocked shots per game

Muhammad's scoring average has decreased by two whole points since Jan. 9, but look at all the ways in which she makes herself an active and important presence for the Tigers at both ends of the floor. It's quite impressive for a 6-1 guard to average nearly two blocked shots per game and over two steals as well. Vanderbilt knows that if it is going to break down Auburn's defense, it must know how to handle Muhammad.

Guard – Brandy Montgomery – Freshman, 5-10; 2013-14: 10.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1 steal per game

Montgomery's scoring average is down 0.9 points, but her rebounding average is up 0.5 boards per game. Auburn does depend on its defense before anything else, but it does have to be acknowledged that too many members of the starting five have become less productive as scorers over the past five weeks.

Guard – Kiani Parker – Junior, 5-9; 2013-14: 2.8 ppg, 2 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.5 steals per game

Parker's averages have all decreased since Jan. 9, but none of them by substantial margins. Nevertheless, Auburn needs Parker and the rest of its roster to proceed in the other direction, becoming more resourceful – not less – as the season moves along.

Bench

Williams-Flournoy lengthened her bench in Auburn's most recent game against Mississippi State. The Tigers' reserves include reserve center Peyton Davis, who averages 6.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Other reserves include forward-guard Katie Frerking, who offers 5.3 points per game; forward Cabriana Capers, who collects 2.8 rebounds per game; and guards Meagan Tucker, Kiani Parker, and Allina Starr. Tucker dishes out 2.1 assists per game. Parker hands out 2.9 assists per game. Starr posts 2.6 assists per contest.

Keys to the Game

1) Crisp, precise halfcourt sets in the first 10 minutes.
If Vanderbilt scores and gets its shooters into an early rhythm, it will win. This is the surest and most direct path to victory.

2) Get to the foul line. If Vanderbilt's players can see the ball go through the hoop at the charity stripe, the rest of the offense should come together. Moreover, foul shots enable an offense to collect points if nothing else is working. The ability to get to the foul line on demand will keep this offense in good shape against Auburn.

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