AUBURN – The Auburn women's basketball team (11-16, 3-11 SEC) will return home for its final two games of the regular season, beginning Thursday with a meeting against in-state rival Alabama (12-16, 2-12 SEC). Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. CT, Thursday from Auburn Arena and the game will air live on CSS.
The game is the first for the Tigers since head coach Nell Fortner announced her retirement effective at the end of the season. Even with all that going on, Fortner said it has not changed anything as she tries to prepare her team to face a Crimson Tide squad that is playing its best basketball at the end of the season.
"I haven't lost my fire, we've all dug our heels in this year and worked as hard as we can to get the most out of these players, and we'll continue to do that to the very end," said Fortner. "I'm always motivated. We'll just continue doing what we're doing and help these kids win a ballgame."
After going winless in its first 10 conference games, the Crimson Tide broke into the win column for the first time on Feb. 9 with a 52-47 win at Ole Miss. Alabama followed that up with a stunning 77-75 win over No. 7 Kentucky a week later, giving it wins in two of its last four games heading to Auburn.
"Alabama's win against Kentucky was a great win, you have to be excited about that if you are an Alabama fan," said Fortner. "That's a good win. We continue to work and play hard, and we just hope our fortune turns around. Hopefully, that'll happen here at home."
Jasmine Robinson leads the team in scoring this season with 11.5 points per game. She is one of seven Alabama players averaging more than 5.0 points per game, coming in just ahead of Meghan Perkins (9.6 ppg) and Kyra Crosby (9.1 ppg). Perkins is also leading the team on the boards with 5.4 rebounds per game.
As a team, the Crimson Tide is shooting 36.2 percent from the field, but giving up 41.4 percent from their opponents. While giving up a high percentage of shots, Alabama has succeeded in applying ball pressure, forcing 20.3 opponent turnovers per game on 6.8 steals per outing.
"Alabama is playing really well right now and has put together some good games here late in the season," said Fortner. "Everyone on that team is stepping up and doing their thing. Jasmine Robinson and Kyra Crosby have had some good games lately, but really everyone on that roster has stepped up and made an impact down the stretch."
Both games this week will be important ones for the Tigers as seeding becomes a factor with the SEC Tournament set for next week. Auburn is currently the No. 10 seed, but could potentially move up a spot to No. 9 with a pair of wins this week.
"It is big, it is real big," said Fortner. "I hope we can take advantage of being at home and get two wins and get some momentum heading into the SEC Tournament."
Leading Auburn is Tyrese Tanner with 10.0 points per game, good enough to rank 25th in the SEC. Mostly coming off the bench, Tanner has led the Tigers in scoring in five of the last 13 games. Right behind her is the long-range duo of Camille Glymph and Blanche Alverson, who are averaging 9.3 and 9.0 points per game, respectively. The pair is averaging 3.6 treys per game, shooting at a 36.3 percent clip.
Also nearing double figures is Hasina Muhammad with 8.9 points per game, good enough for second in the SEC among freshmen. Senior Parrisha Simmons leads the team in rebounding with 5.2 boards per game, including four double-digit rebound games this season.
Muhammad, Auburn's lone freshman, is coming off a 12-point performance at LSU on Sunday. She has scored in double figures in three of the last four games.
"Hasina has really come into her own lately," said Fortner. "I thought her LSU game was really good and she is really starting to progress as a player. She has a phenomenal future ahead of her and she is very coachable. She wants to be great, and she will be."
Thursday's game is the "All Auburn, All Orange" Game with fans encouraged to wear orange. Auburn junior Blanche Alverson will also be collecting books for her "Ballin' For Books" community service campaign. Collection bins will be located at each entrance to Auburn Arena where fans can donate children's books to Pine Hills Literacy Project and Loachapoka Library.
Bernie Guenther and former Auburn head coach Joe Ciampi will call the game on CSS and WatchESPN.com. Tiger fans can listen to the game live on WMXA 96.7 FM with play-by-play from Andy Burcham and color commentary from Arnika Edwards. A live audio Webcast and GameTracker will also be available at AuburnTigers.com.