Youth movement: A new look for the Auburn women’s basketball team
AUBURN, Alabama – As Johnny Harris begins his second season as the head coach of the Auburn women’s basketball team with a home game Tuesday night, his Tigers will rely heavily on newcomers. Barring a last-minute change, the starting line-up will be three true newcomers.
That’s what it looks like now with Hennessy (Scott Grayson) who is a senior but could return for another season and also AC (Aisha Coulibaly).
Tipoff is set for 7pm CST as Sam Houston visits Auburn Arena. The game will be broadcast on SEC+. The Bearkats finished 15-16 and had two players named to preseason All-WAC teams.
Harris, who took over a team that did not win an SEC game in 2020-21, led the Tigers to a 10-18 overall record and 2-14 league record last season. The coach expects this improvement to continue for the 2022-23 season.
“Our chemistry is really good to be as young as we are,” Harris said. I have eight players who were not suitable for us last year. “I think our kids are playing really hard.”
The coach noted that he likes the buy-in he’s seeing from the group this season. They play very hard, even though we are young and make up for a lot of mistakes.
Koulibaly, a 6-foot-5 forward, is a preseason All-League selection by the coaches. He averaged 17.1 points and 7.5 rebounds while playing out of position for most of the season and having to play against centers.
Scott Grayson, a 5-9 guard, averaged 13.0 points and 5.7 rebounds while making 41 three-pointers last season.
The Tigers also return their third-leading scorer, Sania Wells, a 5-7 point guard who averaged 9.1 points and 2.6 assists. He started 25 games last season and set Auburn’s single-season free throw accuracy record at an SEC-leading 90.5 percent.
Sydney Shaw, a 5-9 freshman from Miami, Florida, is expected to start at point guard. He was a national talent who played as a senior at DME Academy in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Caitlin Duhon, a 5-10 guard, is another projected starter. He averaged 17 points and seven rebounds as a senior last season at Summer Creek High in Houston, Texas.
Harissa Richardson, 6-2 from New Manchester in Douglasville, Ga., is expected to start at center. He averaged 18.3 points and 8.9 rebounds as a senior.
“We’re going to make a lot of mistakes and we’re going to struggle because of our youth, but playing hard, I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” Harris said.
The Tigers have added height to their roster, something that was lacking last season. The tallest player is 6-5 center Pris Johnson, who joined the team last spring as a transfer from Texas. He averaged 5.2 points and 4.0 rebounds and looks poised to improve on those numbers.
Shooting consistency was also a problem at 38.7 percent from the field. Harris said he expects to improve with that part of the team’s game.
The coach pointed out that this year he sees his team members practicing shooting regularly in their free time, and noted: Last year at this time when I entered the field, I could hear basketball and see male players. They work hard and do more. We have children who are hungry. “They want to win.”
Harris said every member of his staff has won a championship and the players have been told that’s the expectation for the program. “We’re very demanding and we don’t apologize for it,” he said.
Of his freshmen expected to start, Harris noted that Shaw could also play at the off guard position. “He works hard and wants to be good,” the coach said, noting that Shaw can make shots for his teammates. He wants to do things right… he gets better and better and better.
“Duhon scores, but he does it more on defense,” Harris said. He has a really good jump shot. It’s just not consistent right now, but he’s going to the gym and working on it. That kid is a terror on defense. “I have to play him because he makes a lot of things happen in defense.”
Commenting on Richardson, the coach notes that he likes the freshman’s “toughness” and ability to score inside and out.
6-1 freshman forward Mia Pratcher and 5-9 Jocko transfer guard Jakayla Johnson are expected to see significant playing time.
South Carolina was named the SEC winner in the preseason media poll ahead of Tennessee, the team that Auburn beat last season. The Tigers were ranked 13th in the poll, ahead of only Vanderbilt. Auburn’s players and coaches expect them to be a much better team than expected.
Last week the players moved into their refurbished headquarters at Neville Arena, which includes a team meeting room, luxury lockers, a large training room and a kitchen/lounge area.
Players saw it for the first time last week and were thrilled. “It’s amazing,” Harris said. “A lot of hard work went into it. “We really appreciate our government investing in this program.”
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