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RECORD: 21 - 8
REGION: East SEED: 7
COACH: Joe Ciampi CONFERENCE: SEC
Road to the Final Four ...................................................................................
This is a very good, big, talented team that has had a breakout year. The Tigers are very fundamentally sound, love to run and are a great defensive team. Though reserve sophomore center Marita Payne has recorded an Auburn single-season record 78 blocks this season, depth might be suspect.
|PLAYER TO WATCH|
The 6-foot senior forward, a unanimous pick to the 10-member All-SEC first team who leads Auburn in scoring (16.4 points) and rebounding (9.2 boards), is tough to defend in the middle. She has a wide body and knows how to use it in the paint, and she's also very tenacious to the glass. Willingham, who tallied 11 double-doubles this season, ranks seventh on Auburn's career scoring charts with 1,444 points and sixth in rebounding with 913 boards. She is one of just five players in program history to rank among the top 10 in both categories.
ANALYSIS BY ESPN'S STACEY DALES-SCHUMAN
The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Auburn is Joe Ciampi's supposed 2-3 match-up zone. To the naked eye, the unique defensive stance that Ciampi teaches appears to be a 2-3 match-up zone, but in truth, it is in fact a form of player-to-player defense -- or what Ciampi likes to call, "a sagging man-for-man defense." This so-called zone has given many rivals a whole lot of trouble because it is designed to disrupt. In a nutshell, the Auburn Tigers have made a huge plunge into the national spotlight because of both their uncanny defense and their will to rebound the basketball and slam the boards.
Offensively, the Tigers put more emphasis on moving better without the basketball as the season progressed. They focused on getting higher percentage shots and ultimately attacking more off the dribble to get those high-percentage opportunities.
Senior forward Le'Coe Willingham fronts Auburn's squad. Remember for just a second back to the 1999-2000 season. Willingham was a sizzling freshman, garnering national freshman All-American honors and becoming only the second newcomer in school history to earn an All-SEC selection. Well, shortly thereafter, Willingham became pregnant and subsequently gave birth to a boy named Derrick. She then took a season off before returning for the 2001-02 campaign.
But now, with all that has happened, Willingham has finally returned to the level she once played at -- and the timing couldn't be better. She's tops in both scoring and rebounding for the Tigers, while averaging just one rebound short of a double-double on the season. The most noticeable influence, however, is her intangible leadership. Willingham has come to be known as "Coach Willingham" around the Auburn family -- her leadership has been extraordinary and speaks volumes to the type of person she truly is.
Besides the guidance of Willingham, Auburn will need continued consistency from junior guard Natasha Brackett, the team's second-best scorer whose quickness keeps Auburn astride.
Additionally, senior center Mandisa Stevenson, another forceful rebounder, must take charge on the glass to support her partner in crime, Willingham.
Finally, it's critical that junior point guard Nicole Louden completes her solid duties at the point position and provides Auburn with the steam necessary to forge ahead.
If the Tigers can win games with defense and rebounding, as we've seen them do all season against teams such as LSU, they can be successful.