"She takes away the paint and just makes you adjust your shots," Ciampi said of Hayden following the loss. "We started knocking shots down going away from her but our lack of ability to knock down the perimeter shots and then our inability to draw fouls on her, it just amazes me how many blocks she had and the way she makes you adjust your shots. We started going away from her and that was a key but she is a force inside and they are smart enough to funnel everything to the inside when you are taking the ball there."
Trailing 35-26 at the half, things looked bleak for the Tigers but they would answer the bell in the second half with a run to get back in the game. Led by the play of senior Carol Smith Auburn would quickly cut into the lead in the first few minutes of the half. The Fairfield native opened the scoring with a jumper and before she was finished, Smith would score 7 of the game's next 18 points as the Tigers would cut the lead to just three at 41-38 with 15:51 remaining. The two teams would trade baskets before a three-pointer by Florida's Brandi McCain just minutes later pushed the Florida lead back to five before Auburn would make a run at the win, only to fall just short in the end.
"Being and leader and being a senior I knew that I had to take the game on my shoulders and that's what I tried to do," Smith said. "I tried to get things going offensively and defensively. I tried to get everyone else to follow me and they did and we came back. Things just drifted away from us towards the end of the game."
Down by five, the Tigers turned to Willingham to get them back in the game and she delivered. Her lay-up with 13:38 remaining cut the lead to just three and baskets by Tia Miller and Natasha Brackett would follow as Auburn took their first lead since the 11:36 mark of the first half by the score of 50-49. A jumper by Willingham and two more free throws would give the Tigers a five point lead 54-49 and things looked good for the home standing squad. But Florida's defense would be too much for Auburn to handle the rest of the way as the Tigers were able to manage just five points the last 8:13 of the game on the way to their first home loss of the season.
Freshman Nastasha Brackett hits a lefty leaner vs. the Gators.
Florida's dominating performance in the paint apparently carried over to the officiating as the Gators attempted 15 more free throws than the Tigers despite Auburn's repeated attempts to take the ball directly at Hayden. Because of the lack of success inside, the Tigers needed a big game from the perimeter but with the exception of Smith, that too was grounded. Auburn shot just 35.1 percent from the floor for the game and made just 3-of-15 from behind the arc. Compare that to Florida's 44.4 percent shooting, including 4-of-9 from three-point range.
The first half was a case of what, or rather who, was missing from the Auburn line-up. Miller scored four of Auburn's first 10 points but picked up her second foul just eight minutes into the game sending her to the bench. From that point on the Gators had their way underneath and controlled the backboards, giving them control of the game. The combination of Hayden and Cardenas was too tough for the Tigers to control as the two combined for 15 points and the Gators finished the first 20 minutes ahead 35-26. If not for the play of Crispina Correia the Tigers would have been in deep trouble. The reserve forward came off the bench to score six of Auburn's final eight points of the half, those would be her only points of the game.
The Tigers return to action Thursday night when they travel to the always tough confines of Thompson-Boling Arena to face the #2 Tennessee Lady Vols, fresh off a loss to Connecticut Saturday afternoon. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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