The Auburn Lady Tigers have been a perennial NCAA tournament team, missing the tournament only five times since the inception of the women's tournament in 1982. Auburn's glory years were the late 1980s, when All-Americans Lauretta Freeman and Carolyn Jones helpd led the Lady Tigers to three straight appearances in the national championships game. Freeman and Jones (now Jones-Young) have re-joined the team as assistant coaches and undoubtedly would like nothing better than to help Auburn return to the upper echelon of women's basketball.
Last season began with a major blow when LaCoe Willingham, who was voted 1st team All-SEC as a freshman in 1999-2000, left the team for personal reasons prior to the start of the season. Nonetheless, there were high expectations for the Lady Tigers, who were ranked as high as #11 in the early season as they cruised through their early non-conference schedule. But as the tougher non-conference games and the SEC season came along, Auburn floundered, dropping completely out of the polls and falling to a 5-9 finish in the SEC. To add insult to injury, they were beaten by their arch-rival Alabama twice during the regular season and a third time in the SEC tournament. By the time the season ended, they didn't even seek a bid to the post-season WNIT. With four starters graduating, it's rebuilding time for the Lady Tigers.
Returning Players: Auburn loses four starters from last year, including top scorer and rebounder Tasha Hamilton. The lone returning starter is senior forward Lori Nero (12.4 pp, 6.4 rbg). Senior guard Carol Smith (12.4 ppg) who joined the team last year as a junior college transfer and senior forward Brandi Hillman (5.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg) are the key returning reserves, who will probably step into starting roles when the season begins.
Incoming Players: Coach Joe Ciampi is counting on a flock of talented signees to boost to Auburn's rebuilding efforts. The cream of the crop is 5-6 point guard Tanesheia Thompson, who averaged 36 ppg as a high school senior
and was named by All-Star Girls Report as the #2 high school point guard in the country. She's joined by two more guards, 5-7 Nicole Louden (29.4 ppg) from New Jersey who was ranked #35 on Bluestar's index of top high school seniors, and North Carolina Miss Basketball 5-9 Natasha Brackett. 5-11 swing forward Tonda Motley from Autaugaville, Alabama, and 6-0 low post player Ezria Parsons round out the freshman class. They're joined by a pair of transfers from Palm Beach (FL) Community College. 6-4 center Chrispina Correira, a native of South Africa, who averaged 14 ppg, 7 rbg, 2 bpg and shot 58% from the field last year. Coach Ciampi is counting on her to provide a defensive presence against the taller SEC teams. She's joined by teammate 6-2 forward Kerdu Arbet (12.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg).
Outlook: Despite the loss of four starters, Coach Joe Ciampi will have plenty of talent to put on the court. However, improving on last year's 5-9 SEC record will require successfully blending the mix of incoming freshmen guards and the transferring post players with the few veterans remaining. More likely, the Lady Tigers will struggle early, improve as the season goes on, but still face a formidable challenge against the most experienced teams during the rigorous SEC season. If all goes well, however, the groundwork will be laid for a better future. An NCAA bid isn't out of the question, but for this young team, a WNIT appearance is more likely.