NORCROSS, Ga. ---- The fifth-seeded Auburn University at Montgomery women's basketball team will open the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament by taking on the No. 4 seed from the East Brewton-Parker on Wednesday, Feb. 29, at 11 a.m., at The Forum in Rome, Ga.
The Warhawks enter the tournament with a 13-15 overall record and finished conference play with a mark of 7-11 to earn the fifth seed in the West division. Brewton-Parker sports a 15-15 record on the year and an 8-11 mark in the SSAC. The winner of the opening-round game will advance to take on the top seed from the West, Belhaven. AUM lost both meetings against the Blazers this season.
Earlier this season, the two squads met at the AUM Physical Education Complex, with the Warhawks earning a 56-51 victory. Junior LaKenya Drayton paced AUM in the contest with a game-high 18 points and eight rebounds, while sophomore Keisha Moore added 14 points and five steals off the bench. The Warhawks took control of the game late in the first half, as they closed the period with seven straight points and led 26-21 at the half. AUM maintained the lead for the entire second half and pushed its advantage to as many as 10 points before securing the five-point victory.
"It is nice to get back to the conference tournament after missing last year, especially for our seniors," head coach Dan Davis said. "We know the tradition of AUM basketball and are not satisfied with just making the tournament. Like every team, we feel like we have a chance. It won't be easy to win four games in four days, but I feel like we are up to the challenge."
The Warhawks secured their spot in the tournament by winning three of their final five conference games, including a victory over then-No. 19 Loyola. AUM also picked up road victories against Mobile and Spring Hill during the stretch.
Drayton has been the catalyst for the Warhawks during the final leg of the season. The Hephzibah, Ga., native recorded four double-doubles in the final five games of the regular season, averaging 12.8 points and 11.8 rebounds during the span. As a result of her strong play, AUM outrebounded its opponents by an average of 11.4 rebounds per game in the final five games.
Seniors Areial Woods, Courtney Thacker and Haley Williams have also stepped up their play lately, averaging 10.4, 8.2 and 6.6 points per game, respectively, during the crucial span. Junior Matika Sterling has also provided a potent option inside, averaging 5.6 points and 6.2 rebounds over the past five games.
"After the Belhaven-Faulkner weekend, our season seemed to swing," Davis continued. "We felt like we have been good defensively all season, but seemed to find the right chemistry on offense with some strategic changes. Our guard play is much more consistent and that has given us better balance offensively by pounding the ball inside. We have really been in all five games, even the two we lost. We have to shoot free throws better, but cutting down on turnovers will be critical. We are playing good defense and rebounding the ball great, but we will have to take better care of the ball and make good decisions to be successful in Rome."
The Lady Barons are led by Ashley White, who averaged a team-high 11.2 points per game during the regular season. She also added 3.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Crystal Nwaopora chipped in 8.3 points and a team-best 5.6 rebounds per contest. As a team, Brewton-Parker averaged 63.3 points per game and surrendered 66.0 per contest. The Lady Barons converted 42.9 percent of their shots from the floor, but averaged 20 turnovers per game.
The second opening-round game of the tournament will feature the No. 4 seed from the West, William Carey, against Southern Wesleyan, the No. 5 seed on the East. The winner of that game will take on the No. 1 seed from the East and No. 4 in the nation, Lee, Thursday at 4 p.m. The championship of the tournament will be played on Saturday, March 3, at 5 p.m.
Live statistics from all games can be accessed here.