NEW ORLEANS — After finally getting past the second round of a postseason tournament, the Tulane women’s basketball team has more unfinished business to take care of when it plays at Auburn at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
The third-round WNIT contest is a rematch of a game Tulane led 39-23 at halftime at Devlin Fieldhouse in November. The Tigers rallied to win 70-65, handing the Green Wave its first loss.
With that defeat still fresh in her memory, senior guard Olivia Grayson doesn’t want her last loss to be against Auburn, too. She had three turnovers and missed five of six second-half shots in the first meeting.
“When that one got away from us, we were upset that we wouldn’t get another chance at them,” said Grayson, who is second on the team in scoring, assists and rebounds. “It’s great we’ll have our opportunity here. That’s just a little extra wind to the fire.”
Tulane already is in uncharted territory. The Green Wave had lost in the first or second round of all 13 tournaments (10 NCAA, three NIT) it had played under coach Lisa Stockton before winning at Arkansas 60-48 on Sunday.
To advance to the quarterfinals, Tulane will have to box out with more authority than in the first meeting with Auburn. The Tigers, who trailed from the 12:43 mark of the first half until 4:18 remained in the game, won thanks to 23 offensive rebounds. Auburn guard Hasina Muhammad grabbed seven offensive rebounds, using her superior size (6-feet-1) against Tulane’s smaller backcourt.
Grayson and fellow starter Jamie Kaplan are 5-feet-8.
“We really challenged our team that we didn’t feel like we could have a great year if we didn’t rebound better,” Stockton said. “We have gotten better in that area, but it is something that they (Auburn) are really good at. We’ve got to keep them off the boards.”
Another key will be guarding against a letdown. Beating Arkansas was a big deal after so many failures at the same stage in the past, but the Green Wave won’t advance if they feel satisfied with that landmark.
“At this point of the year, that can happen,” Stockton said. “Everyone else at Tulane is on spring break right now. That’s kind of distracting. Our players have been really focused, and you just hope they can stay that way.”
Winning on the road has not been a problem for the Green Wave. Although 75 percent of home teams won NIT first- and second-round games, Tulane bucked the trend at Arkansas, a season-long pattern. Tulane was 6-2 on the road in Conference USA and beat LSU in Baton Rouge, making the Wave 2-0 in Southeastern Conference venues.
“We are really focused, and our chemistry is stronger on the road because we spend so much time together,” Grayson said. “Our coaching staff really prepares us on what we need to accomplish.”
If Tulane wins, it might get one more opportunity to play at home. The Green Wave has put in a bid to host a potential quarterfinal against the Drexel-Bowling Green winner, and Stockton said a combination of corporate sponsors and ticket sales could help them pull it off.
First, though, they have to get by Auburn.
The Tigers rely on the guard and wing trio of Muhammad (14.5 ppg), Blanche Alverson (12.6 ppg) and Tyrese Tanner (13.8 ppg) for scoring. Tulane counters with a committee approach: five players average between 7.5 and 11.3 points.
“We were watching film on them, and we just saw how we let that (first) game slip away,” Kaplan said. “We had a lot of mistakes that are easily fixable, so we are definitely ready to play them again. It’s a little bit of a revenge game.”
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