Auburn women stuck in program's longest skid

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Terri Williams-Flournoy's teams are built on pressing and running, but the Auburn women have been stuck in place for more than a month.

The Tigers produced a 13-3 record, swiftly matching last year's win total under coach Nell Fortner. Since then, Williams-Flournoy's first Auburn team has lost eight straight games, the longest skid ever for a once-powerful program that won a Southeastern Conference title just four years ago.

She knew the transition wouldn't be as easy, promising upon her hiring only that she knew ''how to win,'' not that she'd do it immediately.

''Yeah, we were winning, but we were still making some mistakes that we needed to clean up because the level of competition was about to improve greatly going into the SEC,'' Williams-Flournoy said. ''And we really needed to improve some things, because that was going to be exploited once you begin to play better competition. And that has showed, definitely.

''We're a few players away from being as good as we need to be.''

Numbers are important for Williams-Flournoy, who likes to keep 15 players on the roster to maintain a fast, aggressive style of play she modeled partly after former Georgetown coach John Thompson, Jr.

She arrived after leading Georgetown to three straight NCAA tournaments, including a trip to the regional semifinals.

Now, the Tigers (13-11, 2-9 Southeastern Conference) are experiencing a rough patch of the transition in styles. Williams-Flournoy started her eight-year tenure at Georgetown with three losing seasons before turning things around, after all.

''It's the reason why you're taking over a program, so you have to expect that there are going to be growing pains there,'' she said. ''You're adjusting to a new team. They're adjusting to a new coach. You're just trying to figure out, at what point are we all going to come together?''

Based on records, the Tigers appeared to be getting it together after a 76-52 win over Mississippi on Jan. 10. Then, the competition took a leap with a 22-point loss to No. 11 Texas A&M and losses to No. 12 Tennessee, No. 9 Kentucky, No. 13 Georgia and No. 16 South Carolina.

Clearly, Auburn hadn't arrived yet.

The Tigers' previous long losing streak was seven games during the 2001-02 season.

''I think we're just having to get back to knowing what it feels like to win,'' said Blanche Alverson, a senior guard and Auburn's homecoming queen. ''The past few years, it's no secret that we've struggled. I think we just have to learn to win again. Once we get that win, I think everybody will remember that feeling.

''Pre-conference, we were winning and everything was great. We were making mistakes, but they weren't as important because we were winning with those mistakes. With better competition in the SEC, those mistakes are the reasons why you win and lose.''

Like 30 turnovers in a 97-53 loss to Kentucky. Mostly, though, the Tigers have been competitive during the losing streak, including a 61-58 loss to Georgia, despite making just 3 of 15 free throws and missing all five attempts in the closing 3 minutes.

Alverson has seen enough to believe Williams-Flournoy can restore a program that made three straight NCAA championship games from 1988-90.

The Tigers haven't had a winning season since going 30-4 and capturing the SEC title in 2008-09 under Fortner. While players like Alverson and point guard Najat Ouardad are seniors, star guard Hasina Muhammad (15.8 points a game) is just a sophomore.

''The future of this program is going to be very successful,'' Alverson said. ''Coach Flo has a great staff and they're recruiting great kids and the next few years they're going to be a great basketball team. I really do believe in what she does and everything she's putting in place here.''

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