Women's Hoops Scouting Report: Auburn
The Vanderbilt Commodores are about to play their last game in the month of February, and that one shining performance against Mississippi State is still the only time in SEC competition that their offense looked like an NCAA tournament offense. The overtime win at Florida came close to that standard, but against the Gators, Vanderbilt missed half of its 20 free throw attempts. Against Mississippi State, VU supplemented effective field goal shooting with a 33-of-42 performance at the foul line. Turnovers were a problem in both games, but against MSU, Vanderbilt did more than enough good things to clearly offset the bad. A 16-point win over an opponent that was undefeated at the time and has remained a force this season remains the one true gem in VU’s SEC schedule.
Time is now running out. Vanderbilt arrives at its last regular season home game against the Auburn Tigers. Forget any grander aspirations. Cast aside the need to build momentum heading into the SEC tournament. Ignore any postseason goals. This game can be reduced to a very simple bottom line: Vanderbilt ought to want to leave a good taste and a warm memory in the minds of its fan base. A home finale is a time to play with pride, a time to play for the simplest and most basic of satisfactions: wanting to end a home-court season on a strong note, sending a thank-you message to a fan base at the end of a very tough year. Growing and building for next season are certainly priorities for head coach Melanie Balcomb, but on one night in one situation, this game is most centrally about saying goodbye to Memorial Gym for another season. Vanderbilt wants to be able to do so in the best way possible.
If Vanderbilt is going to say goodbye in the best way possible, it’s going to have its work cut out for it… even though its opponent is last in the SEC. Does this sound weird? Yes. It definitely demands a fuller explanation.
Auburn is 1-13 in the SEC. The Tigers, formerly an NCAA tournament runner-up in the very late 1980s and a genuine national power, are starting over. Yet, this team – as poor as it has looked all season long – is coming off one of the best defensive performances anyone has produced at any point in this season… not just in the SEC, but on a national level.
This past Sunday, Andy Landers and the Georgia Lady Bulldogs – one of the most successful coaches and one of the most successful women’s basketball programs over the course of many decades – were equally humiliated by Auburn’s defense. The Tigers held Georgia to 26 points, and while that is naturally the most eye-popping statistic to emerge from the event, a few other facts proved to be almost as mind-blowing. For one thing, Auburn forced 27 turnovers. That’s Kentucky-level good. Are we SURE Auburn is a 1-13 SEC team? An even more impressive statistic, though, is this: Auburn’s number of fouls committed all game long – 11 – matched the number of field goals Georgia made in 40 minutes. That’s right: Georgia made just 11 shots out of 45 attempts.
A few more statistics underscore how remarkably effective and, moreover, dominant Auburn was on defense. First, Georgia made only two 3-point shots and only two free throws. Auburn didn’t give Georgia any cheap points, and it didn’t allow the Lady Bulldogs to score in bunches with the long ball. What is just as remarkable is that Auburn made only two threes (2-15 shooting) and two foul shots of its own (2-5 shooting)… and won by 18 on Georgia’s home floor. That’s crazy. Auburn also turned the ball over 18 times… and enjoyed a plus-nine turnover differential. Also crazy. Auburn turned the ball over 18 times… and won by 18 points. Seriously?
You can see the challenge Vanderbilt faces. A team that has so consistently struggled to put together a complete offensive performance faces a team that is in a defensive groove. The Commodores will need every last ounce of energy, concentration and patience just to get to 50 points in this game, let alone 60. Moreover, ultimate point totals are easy to look at, but VU has to aspire to do more than just hit a given number of points; the Dores have to make sure that they don’t turn the ball over too much and feed Auburn’s offense. If Vanderbilt scores 58 points but allows (let’s say) 10 live-ball turnovers that lead to 18 Auburn points, VU could find itself on the short side of a 62-58 score. No one would be happy that the Dores scored 58 (which happens to be the highest number of points Auburn has itself scored in any SEC game this season).
Can VU – which has not had a problem playing defense – find solutions on offense? Being able to do so at home, if only one more time, would certainly go a long way toward making this season a little bit easier to digest.
Center – Tra’Cee Tanner – Junior, 6-3; 2014-15: 11.7 points per game, 6 rebounds per game
Tanner is, very simply, Auburn’s leading scorer and rebounder. When you look at her game, a foremost characteristic is that her experience enables her to respond smoothly amidst the chaos and clutter of low-post play. She knows how to make quick and effective movements in traffic, which makes her adept at scoring on putback baskets once she gets an offensive rebound.
Guard – Brandy Montgomery – Sophomore, 5-10; 2014-15: 11.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg
This is Auburn’s only other double-figure scorer. Montgomery does not arrive at her scoring average through efficient play or accurate shooting. She hits under 37 percent of her field goal attempts and under 26 percent of her threes. What she achieves, she achieves by means of persistence. The fact that one of Auburn’s few decent scorers is not an accurate shooter underscores the problems this team has faced on offense all season long – this is to be expected for a team that has never scored even as many as 60 points in a single SEC game.
Guard – Katie Frerking – Sophomore, 6-1; 2014-15: 6.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.9 assists per game
The thing to note about Frerking is that while she pulls down almost as many rebounds as Tanner, she doesn’t score nearly as much. Frerking is not as practiced or as polished in the art of the putback basket, and that could be something which works to Vanderbilt’s advantage in this game.
Guard – Khady Dieng – Sophomore, 5-10; 2014-15: 5.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.3 apg
Dieng is one of nine Auburn players averaging under 6.6 points per game. Given that Tanner and Montgomery are the leading scorers on this team, and do not average as many as 11.8 points per game, you can see why this team struggles so much at the offensive end. It’s not as though a team has to have a leading scorer who averages 15 or 17 or 19 points per game. What a team does need – if its stars don’t post high scoring averages – is a profile in which “balanced scoring” exists at a high level, with six or seven players averaging somewhere from seven to nine points per game. Auburn’s balance exists at a low and impoverished level, with players averaging two to five points per game. Dieng is part of that dynamic, and Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy knows this has to change next season.
Guard – Neydja Petithomme – Freshman, 5-8; 2014-15: 5.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.1 apg
Petithomme is the best passer on the team, the only one to average more than three assists per game. It is worth pointing out that on a team which shoots at a very low percentage and doesn’t make a lot of shots, it’s quite impressive that Petithomme finds a way to average at least three assists. Just imagine what her assist total would be if her teammates could shoot at a much higher level. Vanderbilt has to respect Petithomme’s passing ability.
Auburn’s primary reserves are forward Jazmine Jones and guard Kiani Parker. Jazmine Jones averages 2.8 points per game, while Parker averages 2.8 assists per game, almost as good as Petithomme. Other reserves include forward Jessica Jones and guard Cabriana Capers. Jessica Jones averages 2.3 rebounds per game, Capers an even two boards per contest. It’s telling that none of Auburn’s reserves average as many as three points per game. This team just can’t score… something Vanderbilt can relate to.
Keys to the Game
1) Win the games within the game. Vanderbilt couldn’t get much of anything done at the three-point arc or the foul line against Missouri, but Auburn didn’t do anything in those facets of competition against Georgia. As inconsistent as VU might be in the realms of three-point shooting and foul shooting, it can still win those battles against Auburn. If it can, it stands a good chance of winning.
2) Early offense or quick offense. When an offense is struggling, it can help to attack the basket before a defense is fully set. Finding opportunities to push the pace before Auburn’s defense settles into its halfcourt alignment could give VU a few extra baskets, which – in a game that’s supposed to be dominated by defense – might make all the difference.
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