While Auburn has dropped back-to-back games to top-15 opponents, Hasina Muhammad has watched it all from the bench — in high heels.
After missing the last two games with an undisclosed lower-body injury, Auburn’s second-leading scorer will “likely” return to action Sunday when the Tigers travel to play a struggling Florida — loser of its last three — at 2 p.m. in Gainesville.
“She’s slowly making progress getting back, she’ll most likely be playing on Sunday,” Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said Friday.
Working exclusively with the starters during Friday’s practice, Muhammad was regularly leading the team in sprinting down court as the Tigers spent much of the practice running baseline to baseline for various mistakes.
When she hits the court Sunday, Muhammad will be expected to immediately help carry the Tigers back into the win column by any means necessary with a home game against SEC-leading Texas A&M on the horizon Thursday.
“The last thing you want to lose is your second-leading scorer,” Williams-Flournoy said. “It’s not so much just her scoring, Hasina’s great for us on the defensive end. She’s long, she’s lanky, she works well for us in the press. And then it gives us the chance to have more experience on the floor.
“With Hasina being out, a lot of time we’ve had to have three freshmen on the floor at one time.”
It has been clear Auburn has missed Muhammad.
While the junior guard was at first playing through her lower-body injury and then sitting out to rest it, the Tigers (11-8, 2-4 SEC) lost 4 of their last 5 games in SEC play after winning 6-of-7 from the start of December.
“From this point, we just need a win,” Williams-Flournoy said. “Our kids have to learn how to win, and that’s the thing. You can talk about it, you can preach until you’re blue in the face (but) until they actually get something they feel good about is when it really sets in at that point.
“This team, we’ve been close, we’ve been right there, but it’s just not enough to really get them to understand how to win.”
Before scoring a combined 12 points while nursing her injury against South Carolina and Alabama, Muhammad was averaging 13.6 points per game during a 10-game stretch after sitting out the first five games of the season.
The return of Muhammad will also help with Auburn’s issues with foul trouble, with the Tigers’ trio of Tyrese Tanner, Tra’Cee Tanner and Peyton Davis combining for 26 of the team’s 43 personal fouls the last two games. Both Tanner sisters have fouled out during the stretch, including the 6-3 Tra’Cee Tanner in both games.
“The last two games, both (Tra’Cee) and Peyton have had to start together and play a lot of minutes together, where as before they were able to go in-and-out for each other,” Williams-Flournoy said. “So now both of them are on the floor at the same time picking up fouls, (where as before) they were picking them up 1-by-1 not 2-by-2.”
Muhammad will also allow leading scorer Tyrese Tanner a little more freedom to do what she does best: drive to the basket and score in the lane.
“As far as matchup purposes, it takes much of the emphasis away from here,” Williams-Flournoy said of Tyrese. “Opposing teams can’t just worry about guarding Tyrese, they’ve got to now worry about Hasina as well. And then when you put (freshman guard) Brandy (Montgomery) in the mix, it definitely adds more kids that have to be guarded.”
And with Muhammad able to move better and provide the potential for steals and forcing turnovers, Williams-Flournoy said the key to beating Florida (13-6, 3-3 SEC) and it’s 2-3 zone defense will be pushing the ball up court and scoring in transition.
“I think it becomes more that we really have to push in transition and understand that we’re better doing that than we are coming down and trying to play a half-court offense,” Williams-Flournoy said.
Auburn (11-8, 2-4 SEC) at Florida (13-6, 3-3 SEC)
When: Sunday, 2 p.m.
Where: Stephen C. O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
TV: ESPNU, ESPN3 Radio: WGZZ (94.3 FM)
Projected starters, Auburn: G Hasina Muhammad, 6-1, Jr. (12.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg); G Brandy Montgomery, 5-10, Fr. (11.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg); G Megan Tucker, 5-8, Fr. (3.8 ppg, 2.5 apg); G/F Tyrese Tanner, 6-1, Sr. (176.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg); F Tra’Cee Tanner, 6-3, Soph. (10.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg).
Projected starters, Florida: G January Miller, 5-8, So. (10.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G Jaterra Bonds, 5-7, Sr. (16.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg); G Cassie Peoples, 5-6, So. (11.0 ppg, 3.7 apg); F Ronni Williams, 6-0, Fr. (8.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg); F Kayla Lewis, 6-0, Jr. (10.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg).
Alex is the Auburn University Sports Writer for the Opelika-Auburn News.
Follow him on Twitter at @AUBlog for the latest in Auburn Sports.