Second of a five-part series examining Auburn sports programs, where they are and where they are going.
Auburn coach Nell Fortner celebrates with KeKe Carrier after clinching the 2009 SEC championship.
AUBURN - The slide started at the end of the best season in two decades for Auburn women's basketball.
With a senior-laden team, the Tigers went 30-4 overall and romped to the Southeastern Conference championship in 2009, Nell Fortner's fifth season as head coach. They were 12-2 in the SEC and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There was considerable belief they should have been a No. 1 seed.
But in the second round of the tournament, at No. 7 seed Rutgers, they were demolished 80-52. It was an historically bad performance for a No. 2 seed.
Since that day, the Tigers have gone 16-28 in the SEC and 42-46 overall. That includes records of 3-9 in the SEC and 11-14 overall this season.
Other than a championship in 2009, the program Joe Ciampi made of the nation's best has not managed to find its way consistently among the contenders.
Ciampi led the Tigers to three consecutive national championship games in 1988-90. In 25 seasons, he led the Tigers to four SEC regular-season championships and four SEC Tournament championships. His teams went to 16 NCAA Tournament and to the Sweet 16 or beyond 10 times and the Elite Eight or beyond six times. He is a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. He was national Coach of the Year and SEC Coach of the Year three times.
Fortner arrived at Auburn in 2004 determined to take Auburn back to the top of the women's basketball world.
"I don't have any doubt at all that we can do that," Fortner aid. It just takes a lot of work. You have to work and you have to have a commitment to recruiting. That has to be your No. 1 priority when you can focus on it. You have to get out there and work hard."
Fortner has continued to sign highly regarded recruiting classes, but other than 2009, it has not translated into. She came close to getting back to the NCAA Tournament in 2011 with an 8-8 SEC record, but a 16-16 overall record didn't get it done. Barring a miraculous turnaround, the Tigers are assured of having a third consecutive non-winning season.
Fortner has taken Auburn to two NCAA Tournaments, but only in 2009 has finished a season with a winning SEC record.
Can Fortner reach the goal she set when she arrived? Can Auburn women's basketball again be consistently among the nation's elite programs?
As the 2012 season nears its end, that goal seems far away.
A quick look at the program:
In her eighth Auburn season, Nell Fortner is 143-103 overall and 51-63 in the SEC. In her ninth season overall, she is 160-114.
TEAM RECORD PREVIOUS 5 SEASONS
102-61 overall, 38-36 in the SEC
SEC Tournament 1980; SEC 1987; SEC Tournament 1987; SEC 1988; SEC Tournament 1988; NCAA Regional 1988 (national championship game); SEC 1989; NCAA regional 1989 (national championship game); SEC Tournament 1990; NCAA Regional 1990 (national championship game); SEC Tournament 1997; SEC 2009.
POSTSEASON PLAY PREVIOUS 5 SEASONS
WNIT 2008, NCAA Tournament 2009, NCAA Tournament 2009, WNIT 2011.