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Fortner's farewell tour continues

NASHVILLE – The Auburn women’s basketball team (13-16, 5-11 SEC) will open the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament Thursday with a 12 p.m. game against Florida (18-11, 8-8 SEC). The game will air live on SportSouth.

Nell Fortner's next loss will be her last game as Auburn head coach.

Auburn coach Nell Fortner has resigned effective at the end of this season, her eighth. Her tenure at Auburn will be over wit her next loss.

The Tigers are the No. 9 seed after finishing the regular season with wins over in-state rival Alabama and Ole Miss. Fortner said it has not been difficult to motivate her squad as they prepare for No. 8 seed Florida.

“I’m going to try to find that magic, whatever that might be,” said Fortner. “The good thing about it is that the kids are excited. Sometimes at the end of the season they can be just, ‘Hey, can we get out of here?’ and that’s not it at all. They know that we have not reached our potential, and so at this point we believe that we can reach our potential.”

This will be Auburn’s second look at the Gators after a 70-56 loss in Gainesville, Fla., earlier this season. Blanche Alverson, the 2012 SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year, led the Tigers in the loss with 19 points.

“Florida is good. I think they’re one of the best teams in the conference even though they finished eighth,” said Fortner. They could have easily finished higher than that. All of their losses were two points, four points… so they’re good.”

Florida won five of its last eight games of the season and is one of the hottest teams in the SEC. The Gators have been a shot or two from a standout season with nine of the team’s 11 losses coming by six or fewer points, including two overtime losses. Florida, though, is coming off a tough 75-59 loss at Tennessee to close out the regular season.

The Gators have a spread out scoring effort with two players in double figures and seven averaging more than five points per game. Leading the team is post Jennifer George with 12.8 points and a team-high 9.0 rebounds per game. Also in double figures is Jordan Jones with 11.4 points per game.

Lanita Bartley leads the team in steals (1.9) and assists (3.2) per game while center Azania Stewart is third in the league in blocked shots with 2.1 per game.

“Florida has a tough inside game with Jennifer George, their post players are strong defenders and have had a great season,” said Fortner. “I think they’re playing well, and they’re hungry. The scary thing with them is they’re fighting for an NCAA Tournament berth, so they’re going to come in highly motivated, but we’re looking forward to playing them again on a neutral floor.”

Auburn is no stranger to Florida in the SEC Tournament as this will be the ninth meeting between the teams in the league’s post-season tournament. The Tigers hold a 7-1 record against the Gators in the SEC Tournament with the last win being a 74-61 upset in the 2010 tournament. In Florida’s lone tournament win over the Tigers, current Gator head coach Amanda Butler and Auburn associate head coach Kerry Cremeans were seniors on the Florida roster.

This is Auburn’s fourth time around as the No. 9 seed in the SEC Tournament. The first time the Tigers were tabbed ninth came in 1997 when Auburn ran the table, winning four games in four days, to win the SEC Tournament. The Tigers defeated Florida, 52-47, in the championship game that season.

Auburn enters the tournament on a two-game winning streak. Depth and Defense have been the key words for Auburn this season. Nine different Tigers have started in nine different starting lineups while five different players have led the team in scoring. Nine players are averaging at least 16.0 minutes per game this season.

Leading the way is sophomore Tyrese Tanner with 10.6 points per game, good enough to rank 24th in the SEC. Mostly coming off the bench, Tanner has led the Tigers in scoring in seven games this season. Right behind her is the long-range duo of Camille Glymph and Alverson, who are averaging 9.3 and 8.9 points per game, respectively. The pair is averaging 3.7 treys per game, shooting at a 36.9 percent clip.

Wedged right in between Glymph and Alverson is freshman Hasina Muhammad, a SEC All-Freshman Team selection, at 9.2 points per game. She is coming off a 19-point effort against Ole Miss and is averaging 13.0 points per game over the last three games.

“Hasina has really been coming on, we see her every day in practice and she’s really been coming on in the last three weeks with working hard individually before practice or staying after practice working on that pull-up jumper,” said Fortner. “Really, she’s such a coachable kid. She’s always had that defensive part of her game because she’s so long and lanky and has good reflexes for the ball, but I think her game has just really elevated in the last three weeks. It makes us a better team.”

Senior Parrisha Simmons leads the team in rebounding with 5.1 boards per game, including four double-digit rebound games this season.

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