"It was about time with me being a senior," said Willingham when asked about her first victory over UGA. She did more than her share with a game-high 20 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
She helped dominate Georgia's two inside stars and twin towers, Christi Thomas and Kara Braxton, who scored just eight combined points. "It was all about want," said Auburn coach Joe Ciampi in describing the performance of Willingham, a six-footer who put on a show against the six-foot-five and six-foot-six Georgia post players.
With Willingham and point guard Nicole Louden leading the way, Auburn shot 52.6 percent from the field, including a sizzling 64 percent in the first half. In contrast, Georgia managed to make just 28.6 percent of its shots, leaving veteran UGA coach Andy Landers nearly speechless after the game. Landers did manage to say he was "appalled" at his team's performance against a team that UGA had not lost to since the 1997 SEC Tournament.
"Le'Coe is from Georgia and we wanted to win this game for her against big, bad Georgia," said a smiling Louden, who scored a career-high 17 points after being challenged in practice earlier in the week by Ciampi to take over the leadership role of the team. That is exactly what she did, said Ciampi, and helped explain why the Tigers bounced back from an ugly 70-59 loss at LSU in which they shot just 27 percent in teir SEC opener.
Ciampi said his team spent the previous three days of practice working on shooting technique. It paid off with 7-16 on three-pointers and a 5-5 night at the free throw line.
Auburn also out-rebounded the taller Bulldogs 40-34 even without center Tia Miller, who was ruled to be academically ineligible earlier in the week. That gave more playing time to Mandisa Stevenson and Louise Emeagi, who responded with solid games. Stevenson pulled down nine rebounds to go with six points and two blocked shots. Emeagi scored 10 points, added three assists, three rebounds and a blocked shot.
Natasha Brackett scored 12 points for the Tigers, who will play a nationally televised game on ESPN2 at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday at Vandy. Auburn improved to 1-1 in the SEC and 13-3 overall. Georgia dropped to 2-1 in the league and 13-3 overall.
Before the game, Ciampi said Georgia was the best team in the SEC. After the game, he said his opinion had not changed although he admitted that Auburn was significantly better on Thursday night.
That was obvious to UGA star Thomas, who said, "They played a great game. They had the fight. They had the fire."
Game Notes: The victory was the 598th of his career for Joe Ciampi, which is the exact same number that Landers has...In Auburn's three previous games vs. Top 25 teams, the Tigers had lost...Nicole Louden passed the 1,000-point career scoring barrier vs. UGA.