Boddie, Auburn outrun Lehigh
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Like any great point guard, Whitney Boddie seems to have a chess master's ability to see the court as it will be two or three moves into the future.
Of course, unlike Gary Kasparov, she also has first, second and third steps that leave opponents grasping belatedly at the empty space she and the ball formerly occupied.
"She can create shots for you," teammate Sherell Hobbs said, differentiating between simply passing to an open player and creating the opening for that player in the first place. "Your man might be guarding you, but she makes one quick move and they have to help and she'll get you the ball real quick.
"Real quick," Hobbs emphasized with a grin and a shake of her head.
Boddie finished with eight points, six rebounds, eight assists and three blocks Saturday to help guide No. 2 seed Auburn past 15th-seeded Lehigh 85-49. Along with DeWanna Bonner's 26 points, Boddie's performance helped produce the program's first NCAA tournament win in the past five seasons and just its third in the past decade.
And for Boddie's part, it was an impressive -- if entirely typical -- display from a player whose quickness moving both her feet and the ball belies the fact that she has had enough waiting to last a basketball lifetime.
Ruled academically ineligible after the first semester last season, Boddie could only watch from afar as her Auburn teammates scraped together an at-large bid and a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament, only to squander a second-half lead against George Washington and lose. A year later, back on track to graduate in good standing, the personable senior isn't defensive when talking about the experience or hard-pressed to come up with lessons learned from going through it.
"First of all, I use it just with my teammates, because I don't want anyone to ever have to go through that," Boddie said. "That was one of the toughest things I've ever had to deal with in my life. But it also just made me hungry. Sitting back watching and being physically able to play but not be able to be out there was extremely tough. I worked hard in the gym, worked hard to get stronger, work on my shooting, everything. And now it's like I feel like I'm ready, and I'm ready to help my team in whatever way I can."
Just how much she helps them was apparent at the macro level by Auburn's seeding relative to last season. SEC regular-season champions, the Tigers are a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990. But four minutes in Saturday's opener were almost as instructive as four months of games during the regular season.
Leading by just two points early, Auburn came out of the first media timeout and rolled off a 19-3 run in the next 3:53. Lehigh acquitted itself well in staying within 15 to 20 points until the late stages, but the early run effectively sealed the outcome.
Bonner and coach Nell Fortner both attributed some degree of the initial slow start to a nearly two-week layoff since the team last played a competitive game in the final of the SEC tournament. And it's not surprising that as Boddie came to life, the team came with her. Before the first timeout, she was a half-beat off, blowing by a Lehigh defender only to leave the layup short.
But by the time the Tigers took a 25-7 lead, she had scored or assisted on half of their field goals, including one particularly sublime 20-second span during the run.
Working at the top of the key in a half-court set, Boddie first delivered a near-no-look bounce pass to Chantel Hilliard as the freshman flashed to the elbow against a zone and knocked down a jumper when no defender had time to recover. Then after a miss at the other end, Boddie called for an outlet pass off the defensive rebound, took one dribble and launched a pinpoint full-court pass to Bonner for a transition layup.
"We feed off her a lot," Trevesha Jackson said, after chipping in 11 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and a steal. "If she's down, we're down. If she's up -- she's the motivator on the team."
In the loss against George Washington last season in the NCAA tournament, Auburn had eight assists in the game. Boddie had five by halftime Saturday.
Just for good measure, the 5-foot-7 guard also had three first-half blocks, two shy of her season total and equaling the team's total from the loss against the Colonials.
"I think as much as DeWanna Bonner is multidimensional, so is Whitney Boddie in her own right," Fortner said after the win. "She is just so dangerous with the ball in her hand, because she can score -- she can get a shot pretty much whenever she wants it. She sees the floor very well and is an incredibly unselfish player, to a fault at times, to my liking. I like her to score the ball a lot, and she likes to pass it."
Perhaps that's because Boddie still remembers what it's like to be dependent on guards to get you the ball. Just as Fortner drew the comparison to Bonner's label-defying skill set, Boddie brought up her All-American teammate the day before. While Boddie looks every bit the part of point guard these days, she said she was essentially the same height at 12 years old that she is now. As a result, while she always had a good handle, she also spent a lot of her formative years on the basketball court playing in the low post.
"I was kind of like DeWanna, just a younger version, because I was bigger than everyone and I had guard skills," Boddie said. "Then I started getting older, getting older and I was still this height, never grew anymore, and so I was like, 'Well, I need to start working on being a guard for real.'"
Boddie doesn't dispute her coach's suggestion that she might occasionally need to play shot-first, or at least second, but that's coming. She took 12 shots against Lehigh, the ninth game in a row she has reached double figures in field goal attempts -- something Boddie did just three times in her first 14 games this season. And it's tough to find too much fault with a player who leads the nation in assists and is worth the price of admission simply for her ability to find angles and make passes no other point guard can make.
"Some people look at good point guards as someone who can score, who can pass and who can just lead the team -- does everything," Boddie said. "I try to be that, you know, like a conscious effort, I want to do all this stuff. I like distributing the ball, and I think sometimes I get really caught up in just passing, wanting to make everyone score and make everyone else better. But at the same time, a complete point guard can score themselves and just do everything."
The NCAA tournament is off and running. The games are only going to get more difficult for the Tigers, but chances are opponents will still be trying unsuccessfully to get a step ahead of Boddie.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.
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