Opportunity Lost: Homecourt Winning Streak Spoiled

Auburn, Ala.--Turnovers, poor outside shooting and a failure to match Vanderbilt's physical style of play were the downfall of the Auburn Tigers on Sunday as the Lady Commodores came into Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum and cooled off what had been a hot AU basketball team.

Rallying from a 34-31 halftime deficit, the visitors forced 24 Auburn turnovers, 18 which came on steals, on the way to a 68-60 upset victory of the 14th-ranked Tigers. In their previous outing, Vandy had upset 15th-ranked LSU in Baton Rouge.

Vandy, the nation's second-leading three-point shooting team, finished with seven treys to just one for the Tigers, who were a dismal 1-14 on three-point field goal attempts.

Auburn jumped out to a 16-6 lead in the first half, but even then Coach Joe Ciampi was not pleased with what he was seeing. "There wasn't a flow, even the first half, with what we were doing offensively," he said. "They do a good job of running their defense and over-playing and putting pressure on the ball. We had some poor decision-making at times."

One of the decisions that irked the Auburn coach as much as anything was the failure to get the ball more often to senior forward Le'Coe Willingham. She scored 17 points as she hit eight of her nine field goal attempts. However, she only got three shots in the second half.

"We decided we were going to play a lot of zone and pack it in on her," said Vandy coach Melanie Balcomb, who added that she believes Willingham is the SEC's best rebounder. "I think the world of her." That strategy kept the Auburn senior forward from touching the ball much in the second half, Balcomb said.

Ciampi said the bigger problem was poor execution of the offense by Willingham's teammates. "When you have an inside player going eight for nine and you can't get her the ball more than that it is a performance problem," the Auburn coach said. "Is that the will of the defense or the will of your teammates?"

Willingham said, "They were pressuring the point guards kind of hard and they couldn't see inside. I don't think the person on me did anything spectacular."

Guard Natasha Brackett led the Tigers with 19 points, but she struggled handling the basketball with eight turnovers. She made 7-16 field goals. "We just kind of played kind of careless and didn't take care of the ball," Brackett said.

Natasha Brackett drives to the basket vs. Vandy.

Center Mandisa Stevenson did the heavy work on the boards with a game-high 13 rebounds and she hit 4-5 field goals for 10 points.

Point guard Nicole Louden got off to a good start, but struggled after that and finished the game with four points, seven assists, four turnovers and just 2-13 shooting from the field. Backup point guard Nitasha Brown wasn't the answer either as she struggled with Vandy's trapping defense and didn't stay on the court long.

Vandy got 22 points from Abi Ramsey, who hit 4-8 three-pointers. Carla Thomas, who kept the Commodores in the game early when everybody else on the team was struggling to score, finished with 16 points.

Auburn had won four straight games and 16 in a row at home prior to Sunday's setback. The Tigers were making a run at a Top 10 ranking and a very high NCAA Tournament seed and were tied with LSU for second in the SEC behind Tennessee prior losing the game before a home crowd of more than 4,256 at the coliseum.

The victory improved Vandy's record to 6-6 in the SEC and 18-7 overall. Two of those victories came against the Tigers, who dropped to 20-6 overall and 8-4 in the SEC. In the first meeting in Nashville, the Commodores won 67-63 after rallying from a 14-point deficit.

"Any time we tried to make a run in the second half our shot selection was not the best we could have and we give credit to Vanderbilt for that," Ciampi said. "Our looks were not very good." The Auburn coach added, "We permitted their scorers to get good looks too many times and that broke us down."

The Tigers return to action on Thursday at Alabama and then will close the regular season at home next Sunday vs. Florida. "Tuesday and Wednesday (at practice) we have to get it together out on the court to be ready to play a road game on Thursday night," Ciampi said.

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