Tigers Cruise Into NCAA Tournament Second Round

Hot-shooting Auburn had no trouble with North Carolina State in the opening round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn shot 53.2 percent from the field and frustrated North Carolina State's star player on the way to a 79-59 victory in the opening round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.

Auburn's matchup zone defense kept the ball away from 6-3 Wolfpack center Kaayla Jones, who was held to just six points and three rebounds. She averages 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds, but didn't score until the second half and was only able to hit only one of six field goals.

Meanwhile, second team All-SEC guard Natasha Brackett had her best performance of the season with a game-high 26 points. Brackett, a junior lefty, hit 10-16 field goals and was 4-8 on three-pointers.

Brackett was 2-2 at the free throw line, had five assists, four rebounds, two steals and no turnovers in 36 impressive minutes of action.

Senior center Mandisa Stevenson was impressive with a double-double. She scored 18 points and added 10 rebounds. Stevenson hit 8-14 field goals, added an assist and a steal in 35 minutes and provided good defense on Chones, the daughter of former NBA player Jim Chones.

Stevenson was not the only Tiger with a double-double. Senior forward Le'Coe Willingham added 15 points and 10 rebounds. She made 7-13 field goals in 30 minutes and helped defend Chones.

"We knew most of their offense ran through her (Chones) and if we shut her down it would put more of an urgency on the rest of the team," Willingham said.

All-SEC forward Le'Coe Willingham (43) was strong on both ends of the court. (Todd van Emst photos)

Auburn pounded the Wolfpack on the boards, taking a 36-24 advantage. The Tigers had 14 turnovers, four fewer than the ACC team that ends its season at 17-15.

Auburn, which improved to 22-8, moves on to a second round game on Tuesday in Bridgeport. The opponent will be UConn, the region's two seed and defending national champion. UConn defeated Penn 91-55 on Sunday night. Auburn is the seventh seed and N.C. State was seeded 10th.

"I really believe defensively we took their will away," said Auburn coach Joe Ciampi. "The first four to five minutes they did a great job shooting the ball, but we found a way to match up and make adjustments and that was a big-time key."

With a crowd of 9,091 watching at the Arena at Harbor Yard, both teams came out on fire shooting the basketball. The Tigers took the lead for good at the 14:03 mark on Willingham's first basket of the night as AU moved ahead 16-14. By the 8:18 mark, the lead jumped to double figures as Brackett nailed a three-pointer.

Natasha Brackett makes a pass vs. the Wolfpack.

The Tigers built the lead to as many as 15 points in the first half before going into the halftime break up 46-33 as Louise Emeagi's fallaway shot beat the buzzer. The Tigers shot 55.6 percent in the first half and weren't much cooler in the second period when they made exactly half of their field goals.

N.C. State got 15 points from forward Rachel Stockdale, who hit 5-6 three-pointers, including three at the start of the game. Coming into the contest, she was averaging just 3.4 points per outing. Marquetta Dickens added 11 points for the losers.

Auburn got five points apiece from starters Nicole Louden and Nancy Derrick. Emeagi came off the bench to add six points and reserve center Marita Payne scored two points and blocked three shots.

Auburn was 5-9 on free throws while the Wolfpack made 8-10 free throws.

"This is what we worked for all year long," said Willingham. "Now that it is here, we want to make the most of it. We want to say we did everything we could have and that we left it all on the court."

The Tigers wasted little time in delivering a knockout blow in the second half. AU outscored the Wolfpack 18-5 to open the period and was never seriously challenged after that.

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