To Unique Thompson, there’s no better way to tip off the new year.
The Auburn women’s basketball team starts 2019 with its SEC opener at Auburn Arena against No. 10 Tennessee in a meeting of one-loss teams.
It won’t get much tougher for Auburn from here until March. The Tigers are starting their league schedule with a game against one of the league’s leaders — and a top-10 Lady Vols team representing a power program that escaped Auburn in close games twice last season.
But the Tigers are ready and excited for that challenge, Thompson said.
Auburn is on a nine-game winning streak of its own, and stands 12-1 after its nonconference schedule going into tonight’s showdown with Tennessee (11-1).
“I’m very excited and I can’t wait, because I know we’re ready,” Thompson said.
The sophomore forward has averaged 13.2 points per game and 11.2 rebounds per game through the Tigers’ hot start to the season in nonconference play. Auburn has picked up wins over two returning NCAA Tournament teams in Oklahoma and Elon, and over a perennial power in North Carolina.
The Tigers’ only loss this season came Nov. 13 at Iowa State. Since then they’ve picked up nine straight wins, including an 83-50 win their last time out against Alabama State on Dec. 29.
Of course against Tennessee the Tigers will face their toughest test yet.
The Lady Vols’ only loss this season came to now-No. 6 Stanford.
Tennessee survived Auburn twice last season, first pulling away in the teams’ meeting in Knoxville to win what was a tie game with less than two minutes to play by 11 points after sinking free throws in the final moments. In the team’s rematch in the SEC Tournament, Tennessee banked in a buzzer-beater at the last second to win by three and end Auburns’ season.
Now, the teams will meet again to kick off this season’s SEC schedule — and this time they’ll be playing on Auburn’s home floor.
“Revenge. Straight revenge,” Thompson said, standing courtside in Auburn Arena aside Tigers practice Wednesday, when asked what was going through her mind going into the Tennessee game. “We had plenty of opportunities last year to execute and I feel like we fell short. But we know what we have to do this year, and everybody is on the same page and we’re ready to get it done.
“We know that they’re not fixing to come in our house and take it,” she added. “That’s another thing that helps with playing them here, is we know that we have to protect the home court.”
Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said the Tigers are in a “great place” coming off a strong showing in nonconference play.
Auburn received votes in the latest Associated Press Top 25 released this week, but sits just outside the rankings.
At 12-1, the team is off to the program’s best start since the 2008-09 season, which saw DeWanna Bonner lead the Tigers to the SEC Championship.
“I’m very proud of the team,” Williams-Flournoy said. “We did an excellent job. We had some tough games.
“To go 12-1 nonconference was a great achievement for our team,” she added. “Now we’re going into the other part of our season. Everybody’s record is 0-0 at this point, as we head into SEC play. And they’re ready. We’re ready for it.”
This game against Tennessee is one the Tigers have been looking forward to.
“Not downplaying Alabama State any, but you almost had to, ‘OK, OK, relax. I know we’ve got Tennessee coming, but we’ve got to take care of Alabama State and finish nonconference first,’” Williams-Flournoy said about her team’s talk going into its nonconference finale last weekend. “They’re steady talking about Tennessee and I’m like, ‘We have another game first, OK?’
Ready for Tennessee — and ready to prove themselves right out of the gates in SEC play.
“We are very excited,” Thompson said. “We’ve been working hard, and nonconference was also a big warm-up for it, so we’re ready to just show everybody what we’re capable of.”
Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. in Auburn Arena.
Emari Jones lost for season
Auburn senior guard Emari Jones will miss the rest of the season after tearing her ACL in the Alabama State game, Williams-Flournoy announced Wednesday.
Jones was averaging 10.7 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game for the Tigers.
“That’s a huge loss, not just for the team but for Emari,” Williams-Flournoy said. “She’s a senior and she’s worked her butt off to improve and be a better player this year. So we’re really saddened about that situation.
“But the team has embraced it. They’re playing the rest of the season for Emari. She was their leader. And, you know, from here we just have to move on.”
Freshman Erin Howard will step into Jones’ spot and start against Tennessee, making her first collegiate start.