Greater Expectations, Fortner Says

Coach Nell Fortner's Auburn women's basketball team is ready to open the season with a road trip.

A, Ala.--Auburn women's basketball coach Nell Fortner said she is eager to see what her team does on Friday night as the Tigers open the 2011-2012 season at Mercer.

Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. CST on Friday at the University Center in Macon, Ga. Auburn opened last season with a home game vs. the Bears and Fortner's Tigers took a 79-61 victory.

"I am excited about the possibilities for this team," said Fortner, who noted the Tigers were disappointed in last season's 16-16 season that ended with a second round loss in the WNIT. "We are a lot quicker and faster than we have been. Right now we have 10 healthy players so one through 10 we are pretty fast and quick."

The Tigers return three starters with 6-3 junior forward Blanche Alverson the top returning scorer and rebounder. She averaged 10.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

Blanche Alverson is one of seven returning Tigers who started games last season.

The Tigers are also expected to start 5-8 senior Morgan Jennings at the point guard spot. She averaged 3.4 points last season.

The other starting guard is 6-1 freshman Hasina Muhammad from Memphis. She scored 13 points and added four rebounds in Auburn's exhibition game. "She's just tough," Fortner said. "She has three-point range with the ability to put the ball on the floor so she really stretches the defense."

Fortner is expected to start three forwards with 6-2 senior Chantel Hilliard (6.4 points, 3.5 rebounds) in the lineup along with 6-2 sophomore Jassany Williams (3.7 points, 3.8 rebounds).

Auburn's coach said the starting lineup is very subject to change. "Everybody is working hard and fighting hard for time on the floor," she noted. "This is the most competition we have had since I have been here. We are very deep.

"We have a lot of different combinations we can put on the floor," the coach added.

The Tigers are expected to get a spark from five-foot point guard Najat "Jet" Ourdad, a transfer from juco power Pensacola, Fla, College. "I can't remember seeing someone who can pressure the ball better than she can," Fortner said. "She is a hawk on the ball."

Shooting guard Camille Glymph, who was limited last season by a hip injury, is expected to put up bigger numbers than last season when she averaged 2.2 points per game.

Auburn defeated Georgia College 85-25 in its only preseason exhibition game on Oct. 30th. Mercer played the same opponent, taking a 73-43 victory.

Injury Report: Peyton Davis, a 6-5 sophomore center, is out of action with a concussion. Courtney Strain, a 5-8 guard, has been sidelined with a foot injury and is not expected to be available for the opener.

Bigger Expectations: Fortner is looking for much more production from her tallest player, six-foot-eight junior Pascale West. The coach said center from LaGrange, Ga., has improved her all-around game considerably during the offseason.

Opening on the Road: The Tigers are 10-5 in season openers played away from their homecourt. The Tigers are 32-8 all-time in opening games with a 6-1 mark with Fortner as head coach.

Homecoming: Senior guard Parrisha Simmons, one of Auburn's top defenders, will be playing in her hometown where she was the all-time leading rebounder at Southwest Macon High. Simmons averaged 2.3 points and 3.1 rebounds last season.

Previous Visit: The last time the Tigers traveled to Macon to play Mercer they came home with a 103-29 victory in February 1987, but Auburn is just 3-4 all-time in games at Mercer and holds a slim 11-9 lead in the series.

A Good Thing Or a Bad Thing?: Normally it is a plus for a college team when all five starters are back, but that group was part of a 2010-2011 Mercer squad that finished 2-27. The bright spot for the Bears was that 5-7 guard Briana Williams averaged 18 points per game to earn Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year honors. She scored 23 vs. Auburn last season.

On Deck: The Tigers will play their home opener at 6 p.m. on Tuesday vs. Belmont.

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