Tide Crushes Auburn

Her first league win would have been a special one no matter who it came against, but the fact that Alabama women's basketball head coach Stephany Smith earned her first victory in the league against long-time rival Auburn made the win all that much sweeter. The Tide (7-8, 1-1) used a strong offensive performance in the first half and some clutch execution down the stretch to down Auburn (9-6, 0-2), 68-54, in Coleman Coliseum Sunday afternoon.

"It was a fun game to coach and a fun game to watch," Smith said. "I thought our team executed about as well as we have all season and it was really the first time we played at a really high level for two halves this year."

Smith's first SEC victory marked the third-straight for Alabama in league home openers. The Tide beat Kentucky in last season's SEC home opener and Alabama beat South Carolina in the league home debut of the 2003-04 team.

For the third time in as many games, Alabama jumped out to an early lead behind some sharp offensive execution. The Tide blew out of the gate, shooting 50 percent through much of the first 10 minutes, helping them to build margins of as many as 10 in the first half.

Fueling that offensive effort was the outstanding performance by junior guard Marverly Nettles. Nettles poured in 14 points in the first half on 5-of-9 shooting, leading Alabama to an 11-point halftime advantage. Nettles finished with 20 points on the afternoon, a season-high for the Birmingham native.

Perhaps the most important factor to the Tide offensive success, though, was its ability to take care of the basketball on the offensive end. Turnovers have been the biggest thorn in the side of this year's Alabama unit, as the team averaged 21.5 miscues per game coming into this afternoon's game.

For much of the first half, however, those statistics did not apply, as Alabama had just seven turnovers in the first 20 minutes of play. The Tide finished with 17 in the game, tying a season-low.

"We still turned it over a little more than I would have liked," Smith said. "But I thought we did a much better job, for the most part, of taking care of the basketball so that we could get in to our offense."

Auburn was able to hang in the game behind some outstanding first-half shooting by senior guard Natasha Brown. Brown drilled four 3-pointers, all in the first half, to help the Tigers stay within striking distance.

For awhile in the second half, it looked like the Auburn might do much more than that. Alabama, who had lost its last two games despite holding halftime leads, played some lackluster basketball in the first five minutes of the second half and the aggressive Tigers took advantage, climbing to within six with just over seven minutes to play.

Fortunately for the Tide, its inside-outside duo of Dee Merriweather and Kate Mastin took over the remainder of the game.

Mastin, who has made a habit of coming up big in late-game situations in her junior season, did it once again this afternoon. She scored seven points in the last 2:20, including a huge 3-pointer to put the Tide up nine at the 2:20 mark. Mastin drained all four of her free-throw attempts down the stretch as well, helping her to a season-high 20 points. Mastin and Nettles tied for high-scoring honors in the game.

Much of the work done by Merriweather, meanwhile, helped the Tide dominate the paint against the taller Tigers. Merriweather scored 11 points for Alabama, but her biggest impact came on the boards.

Merriweather, who came into the game averaging 9.4 rebounds, third-best in the SEC, grabbed nine in today's contest. She finished just one rebound shy of tallying her fifth-straight game in double figures on the boards. Merriweather was also clutch from the charity stripe, knocking down 3-of-4 from the line in the second half.

"We are fortunate that one of the strengths of our team is on the boards," Smith said. "Much of that is due to Dee Merriweather, who is our leader in that regard. She has a knack and a hunger for the ball after it hits the rim and it shows in each game she plays."

DeWanna Bonner led Auburn on the offensive end, scoring 16 points for the Tigers. Nitasha Brown was unable to maintain her hot shooting from the first half, as the Tide held her to just two points in the second frame to give her 14 on the afternoon. Marita Payne, the league leader in blocked shots, had seven on the afternoon for Auburn.

The Tide will look to extend its modest SEC winning streak next Sunday against Arkansas. That match-up is slated to tip at 2 p.m. in Coleman Coliseum and will be broadcast by Cox Sports Arkansas and the Alabama Cable Network.

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