Appropriate domination. I think that's the best term for the Auburn women's
85-49 demolition of Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament first round Saturday. The Tigers led 25-7 eight minutes in and never led by less than 13 from that point. The 15-point halftime lead didn't seem quite as overpowering as you might like for a Final Four contender taking on a Patriot League team ... but then again, it's not like Auburn's bench has ever been this team's strength. With the starters returned for the start of the second half, the lead got pushed to 20 by the under-16 timeout and that was all she wrote.
And that bench--in the biggest development of the game for Auburn--got plenty of work. Boddie and Bonner got only 31 and 30 minutes, respectively. Meanwhile, Chantel Hillard got 19, Reneisha Hobbs 15, and Morgan Jennings and Parrisha Simmons combined for 14, probably the most those two have received since the nonconference portion of the schedule. Between the long layoff before this game and the abundance of bench time, Auburn's ironwoman starting group should have plenty in reserve for the second-round game.
Other positives: 1. Alli Smalley went 2-of-5 from deep, which is just about the minimum percentage she's going to have to shoot from out there to keep opposing defenses honest 2. Bonner was Bonner: 2 points, 7 rebounds in those 30 minutes. 3. Hilliard went 5-of-7 for 10 points and continued to look like she might be capable of taking over some of Trevesha Jackson's or Bonner's minutes if it came to it. 4. As a team, the Tigers shot 53.1 percent from the floor. Yes, that's good. 5. The Tigers held Lehigh to 30 percent flat from the floor for the game and--get this--just 5-of-30 (16.7 percent) in the second half. Also good.
Not everything was perfect, of course. Whitney Boddie posted her usual 9-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, but shot just 4-of-12 against a team that shouldn't have been able to keep her away from the rim. 15-of-25 from the free throw stripe isn't especially impressive and in a very-likely close game against Rutgers could be the difference.
But when you see other 2-seeds that had to go into overtime to survive (or best-programs-of-all-time that are busy getting blown out by Ball St.), it's not time to complain. Auburn needed domination, they got it, and that's more-or-less the end of the first-round story for them.
Rollin'. Vot Barber played 13 minutes and the Auburn men won by 19 against a team that had legitimate NCAA designs at one time. Hopefully that tells you something about how dominant the Auburn backcourt was against Tulsa Friday night, especially on the defensive end: 18 turnovers forced? 12 steals? 34.4 percent shooting allowed? 5-of-18 from 3? That's a good night's work on that end, no doubt about that.
Given that that's the end where motivation is usually more of a problem, it's safe to say that Jeff Lebo has continued to have a marvelous season coaching this team. On paper, it's giant-killin' Tulsa who desperately wants to win this game and NCAA-disappointed Auburn who maybe secretly wants the season over or some such. Not quite the way it worked out, and full credit to Lebo and the seniors for making sure that was the case.
On the offensive end, well, Barber's absence was felt a little, but Tay Waller has a Tay Waller game (3-of-7 from deep, no 2-point FGAs) to keep the defense just stretched enough for Barrett to get into the lane and rack up 17 points without a turnover. It was enough, despite the fact that Lucas Hargrove disappeared again.
Next up: Baylor, Tuesday night. The Bears are about as hot as it gets, having come from nowhere to nearly steal the Big 12 tournament and having been last seen pummeling Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. But with the game in Auburn and the trip to Madison Square Garden now squarely (heh) on the line, I don't see motivation as an issue anymore. And for an Auburn team that's always been good this year when fully motivated, 74-55 over Tulsa is one heck of a good sign.
Tonight. At 7 Eastern, the Auburn women will take on 7th-seeded Rutgers on Rutgers' own home floor because that's the way the fairness-challenged women's tournament works. In a top-notch preview of the game, ESPN's Graham Hays writes that this may be an issue:
Nell Fortner's team went 13-2 on the road during the regular season (18-3 counting neutral-site games). But although winning is all that mattered on each of those 15 occasions, how the Tigers went about winning now matters as we start looking ahead. In seven conference road games, the Tigers averaged just 69.7 points, compared to 79.9 points in conference home games.Hays goes on to point out that Rutgers will also refuse to speed the game up--shades of Vandy--and that the Scarlet Knights' 57-51 first-round victory over VCU maybe wasn't quite as close as the score indicated. Thanks, Captain Bringdown.
On the road in conference play, the Tigers shot 44.5 percent from the floor; at home, they shot 51.6 percent.
On the road in conference play, the Tigers had 74 assists and 104 turnovers; at home, they had 127 assists and 79 turnovers.
But Hays does mention that Rutgers' overdependence on star player Epiphanny Prince could hurt them, and here's a few other reasons to think Auburn could/should come away with a win tonight:
1. Auburn's the better team. Not by a wide margin, and by an even slimmer margin given where this game is being played, but they are. They've proven it. That matters
2. Bonner and Boddie will play 40 minutes each. Assuming they stay out of foul trouble, Auburn's two stars won't sit. They don't have to, not with longer TV breaks and the extra rest they've gotten over the past two weeks.
3. Seniority. Rutgers has only two seniors on the entire roster; Auburn, as you know, has four in the starting lineup. If Rutgers maybe has an edge in tourney experience, it won't matter much when Auburn has an edge in overall hoops experience, especially at the point.
So the game should be tense and tight. But if Auburn can play their brand of defense and--as always--Smalley can loosen up the defense in the lane, there's no reason the Tigers can't overcome Rutgers' various advantages to move on to the Sweet 16.