Tigers Clip Blue Jays' Wings On Way To Title Game

Auburn built an 18-point halftime lead on the way to a victory over Creighton Monday night.

Omaha, Neb.--Auburn withstood a furious Creighton rally to prevail 73-62 Monday night to advance to the championship game of the Women's NIT where they will face the Baylor Bears Friday in Waco, Tex. Sophomore guard Natasha Brackett scored 26 points to lead the Tigers as they snapped the Blue Jays' 23 game home winning streak to keep their postseason run alive.

"You find a way," Coach Joe Ciampi said following the win. "Defensively we found a way to stop their run and rebound. Then we hit some free throws down the stretch and that's what counts. Give these kids some credit, they found a way to win tonight in a tough environment."

Auburn used an explosive offense in the first half to jump out to a big halftime lead only to see Creighton come back to make the game close in the second half. Leading 18-14 after a Dana Finch three-pointer cut Auburn's lead, the Tigers went on a serious run to close out the half. In their best performance of the season on the offensive end for a half of basketball, the Tigers poured it on the home team with a barrage from Brackett, Nicole Louden and Le'Coe Willingham.

Le'Coe Willingham in early season action.

The lead got cut to just three with another Finch three pointer before Louden hit a runner in the lane to make it 22-17 Auburn. A steal and basket by Brackett with 10:39 remaining put the Tigers up by seven and back-to-back baskets by Willingham moments later put Auburn ahead comfortably. The lead would remain at least nine points until a Brackett three put Auburn up 37-25. Big Marita Payne scored inside to make the lead 14 and another Brackett steal and basket made the score 41-25 with just five minutes remaining in the half. Three Creighton three-pointers in just over one minute of play cut Auburn's lead to just nine with fewer than three minutes left in the half. That's when the Tigers put the game out of reach for the Blue Jays.

Brackett started things off with two free throws to make the score 45-34 Auburn. A Willingham basket followed by another Brackett basket late in the game gave the Tigers a 15-point lead with just 9 seconds left in the half. Guarding the ball, Lekeisha Johnson stole the ball from Creighton at midcourt and launched a three-pointer at the buzzer. Swishing through the net at the horn, the shot gave the Tigers a 52-34 lead at intermission. While the Blue Jays would make a run, the end of the half gave Auburn the momentum to earn the victory.

"We really clicked in the first half," Brackett said. "I think they just had a lot of mistakes and lapses in their offensive game. We just took advantage of that and had a lot of easy lay-ups."

Nicole Louden

If the first half was very good, the second half was anything but that. Scoring just 13 points in the first 16 minutes of the second half with turnovers at seemingly every key moment, the Tigers saw their once huge lead dwindled down to just 10 points after two Creighton free throws with 4:07 left in the game. The lead would take another hit when Finch drilled a long three-pointer with 3:23 left to make it 65-58 Tigers. After swapping baskets, the Blue Jays cut the lead to just five with 1:48 left. That's when the Tigers took control once and for all. The basket of the game came from Brackett. With the shot clock running down, she hit a running shot from just outside the lane to push the Tigers back out to a seven-point cushion. Two Louden free throws and a Tia Miller basket made the final score 73-62 Tigers.

"There were just six second left on the clock and we made a plan that whoever gets the ball just needs to shoot it," Brackett said. "We just really had to force one up and that's what I did."

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