Tigers Take Title, Smith Named MVP

Auburn, Ala.-Auburn Coach <b>Joe Ciampi</b> picked up his 550th career win as the Tigers won their ninth consecutive Thanksgiving Classic with a 74-54 trouncing of the Chicago State Cougars in the championship game Saturday at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

The Tigers used a balanced scoring attack to improve to 4-0 on the season. Six AU players scored at least eight points, including senior Carol Smith, who earned the classic's MVP honors with eight points in the final.

"I thought the kids came out with a lot of composure and high energy," Ciampi said. "I'm really pleased with Carol. She is really becoming the leader of this team. It takes a lot for a player with a scorer's mentality to mentally run a ball club."

Smith finished the two-game tournament with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists. However, it was her defensive intensity that helped the Tigers shut down their opposition throughout the classic. "We really focus on our defense and try to carry it out first," Smith said. "We feed off our defense and we've been able to do that in these two games." The Tigers forced the Cougars into 21 turnovers.

Sophomore Le'Coe Willingham and freshman Natasha Brackett led the Tigers in scoring in the championship game with 12 points apiece. For the second straight game the Tigers dominated the first half, but could not extend their 20-point half time lead as each team scored 33 points after the break.

Sophomore Nancy Derrick led the Tigers' first-half surge going 4- 5 from the field and she scored all nine of her points as AU led at the half 41-21. Auburn opened the game with a 15-4 run sparked by the sharp-shooting of Derrick, who scored seven of the first 15 points.

Auburn shot extremely well from the field in the first 20 minutes hitting 17-29 shots for 58.6 percent while the Cougars made just 9-21 shots for 40.9 percent. The Tigers continued their solid shooting into the second half making 16-29 shots to finish the game at a 57 percent clip. The Tigers outrebounded the visitors 30-25 with senior Brandi Hillman leading the Tigers with seven. Willingham added six rebounds.

"We got success from every starter," Ciampi said. "When you shoot 57 percent from the field you are doing something right. We wanted to keep the high energy going all game and experience that it takes 40 minutes to win."

Freshman Nicole Louden was the third Tiger in double figures chipping in with 10 points and two assists. Tia Miller saw her first action of the classic after sitting out the Tigers' opening round victory over Charleston Southern with a shoulder injury. The sophomore center saw limited action scoring seven points.

The Tigers will travel to Greenville, S.C., to take on Furman University at 7 p.m. on Monday.

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