Auburn was one of the last teams to hear its name called for a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The selection was a bit of a surprise. The Tigers suffered a string of tough defeats (nine of the last 12) after landing in the AP Top 25 in the early weeks of the season.
Still, coach Terri Williams-Flournoy’s team knows it doesn’t matter when its name was called — the important thing is the Tigers made it back to the Big Dance for the second straight season.
Last season, Auburn defeated St. John’s in the opening round of March Madness before falling to Baylor in Waco, Texas. That valuable experience has gifted this team (given a No. 11 seed) with perspective and even perhaps an edge heading into its first-round matchup against No. 6 seed North Carolina State.
“We’ve got a new opportunity. This is a new season,” Williams-Flournoy said. “We have to continue to do what we do and realize that it’s a whole new season right now. We can’t look at what happened before because then you start to question yourself and second-guess yourself. This is a whole new season. It’s the NCAA Tournament. Everybody at this point is 0-0.”
The Tigers have no plans to be indecisive about their identity on the court, either. Auburn is one of the nation’s best at forcing turnovers (22.2 per game) and ranked No. 7 in the country in steals (357).
“We like to pressure for 40 minutes, full-court press, all in people’s face, trapping them, trying to get turnovers, to go in transition and score on the other end,” senior Brandy Montgomery said. “We’re relentless. We’re not going to get out of it. It’s what we do. That’s how we play.”
Montgomery will have some help from fellow senior Katie Frerking, a member of the SEC All-Defensive Team. The duo will lead Auburn as it tries to make the Wolfpack yet another group to commit an uncharacteristic amount of mistakes.
“I think that’s kind of our goal every game is to just really take teams out of what they do,” Frerking said. “It’s hard whether or not you’ve gone against this press before or not to play against this style for 40 minutes, because like Brandy said, we don’t come out of it. That’s what we do; that’s who we are; that’s all we know. So, I mean, we think it’s an advantage, of course, when we are playing a team who we haven’t played before and they haven’t seen it, and so we’re just going to use that to our advantage, and we think that’s our biggest strength.”
In addition to its imposing defense, Auburn also brings savvy. N.C. State will be making its first NCAA appearance since 2014 while the Tigers, even with five newcomers, will have an understanding of the atmosphere they’re walking into.
“Those of us who were here last year can share with the younger kids is just that it’s still just basketball,” Frerking said. “It’s the NCAA Tournament. It’s a lot of bright lights, you’re on a big stage, but at the end of the day, you’re just playing a basketball game, and when that game starts, it’s 40 minutes of the same thing we’ve been doing all season.”
Auburn basketball Friday afternoon
* Assists per game