Tigers Take Thriller To Win WNIT Championship

Auburn's rally reeled in Baylor just in time to win the Women's National Invitational Tournament.

Waco, Tex.--Trailing 63-55, the Auburn women's basketball Tigers scored nine uncontested points in the final minutes to pull out a 64-63 victory over host Baylor in the finals of the Women's National Invitational Tournament.

Le'Coe Willingham's basket with 3.2 seconds left was the game-winner and completed the big comeback. Auburn trailed 51-38 as the host Lady Bears had the momentum vs. the foul-plagued Tigers, much to the delight of 7,314 fans on Friday night. However, Willingham's heroics helped the Tigers rally for the victory.

Her basket with 2:40 left cut the lead to 63-57. Point guard Nicole Louden drilled a three-pointer to make it a one-possession game with 2:06 left. With 1:22 remaining Willingham scored again to cut the gap to one point.

After coming up empty on their first possession with an opportunity to take the lead, the Tigers quickly pushed the ball up court and guard Natasha Brackett threw a pass to set up the winning basket by Willingham, who scored at point blank range.

"She's the kid that wants to score, wants to take the opportunity to win or lose the ball game," Auburn coach Joe Ciampi said of Willingham, who came up big in Auburn's five WNIT wins despite playing with a shoulder injury.

The Tigers ended the season with a 23-11 record while Baylor slipped to 24-11 in the first ever women's basketball game between the Tigers and the Bears. It was also Auburn's first appearance in the WNIT.

Auburn won the game despite a tough night shooting the ball. The Tigers hit just 33.8 percent of their field goals, 5-20 three-pointers and 9-16 free throws. However, they kept their other mistakes to a minimum with just six turnovers.

Baylor committed 14 turnovers and also struggled with its shooting. The Bears made just 32.1 percent of their field goals and 3-15 three-pointers, but almost won the game at the foul line by hitting 24-30 attempts. The Bears won the battle on the boards 47-43.

Willingham led the Tigers in scoring with 14 points while Brackett added 13. Louden scored nine points, Tia Miller added eight while the team's only senior, reserve LaKeisha Johnson, got seven off the bench along with sub Louise Emeagi. Johnson led the Tigers in rebounds with eight, Miller contributed seven and Emeagi added six.

"These girls persevered when everything was going against them, never broke, and found a way to win in the end," Ciampi said. "That is what counts. I told the girls when we were down that we are going to get back into this game two points at a time. I could not be any prouder of this team, and what a great feeling it is to win the last game. That is why we did not cut down the nets this year. We are waiting until next year. We have a good team coming back next season, and have a chance to have a very good season."

Sophia Young had a monster game for the Bears with 20 points and 25 rebounds. Dionne Brown added 14 points.

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