And, nobody had more to do with the victory than Auburn's only senior starter, point guard Carol Smith, who led all scorers with 22 points. She hit 7-10 field goals, including three of five treys. Smith was 5-7 at the foul line, dished out three assists and added three rebounds and two steals while committing just two turnovers.
"It wasn't my best game, but it was close," said Smith. "I scored 27 one time and that was my best game." However, Smith did note that the victory on Thursday night was second to none this season. "I wanted to have a big finish in my last home game so I am really pleased with how we played."
There were signs of an upset early as the Tigers hung with the Lady Gamecocks, who brought a 21-4 overall record and a 9-3 SEC mark to Auburn. AU, which is now 15-11 overall and 3-10 in the league, took a 24-21 lead at intermission. However, as it turned out, the home team was just warming up.
With the Tigers hitting on all cylinders, the Tigers quickly built a 20-point lead to start the half and the visitors never recovered. By the time the Gamecocks scored in the second half at the 11:20 mark, the Tigers had scored 23 points to lead 47-21.
When asked when she thought the Tigers were going to pull off the upset, Smith admitted, "Well, we had lost some other big leads so I guess I wasn't sure we were going to win until we got up by 20 points."
Coach Joe Ciampi said strong defense, particularly near the basket, set the stage for the upset. He added that his team moved the ball better on offense than it had in a long time and noted, "We played smart and we played with a lot of energy."
Those descriptions certainly applied to sophomore Nancy Derrick, who had lost her starting job but was back in the lineup to face her home state school. The 5-9 guard scored 16 points and pulled down four rebounds. The Tigers also got 13 points from forward Keisha Johnson.
Auburn played like the team that had roared off to a great start and advanced into the Top 25 before losing its star player Tia Miller to an injury. Immediately after the center went down, so did her backup, Brandi Hillman, who went down with a foot injury. After missing nine games with a broken foot, Hillman returned to action on Senior Night and scored one point and had one rebound in 17 minutes off the bench.
Sophomore Le'Coe Willingham pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds as Auburn matched the taller Gamecocks on the boards. Each team had 38 rebounds. However, the big difference was with the shooting. AU hit 46.7 percent from the field while the Gamecocks made just 30.3 percent. Combine that with just 12 Tiger turnovers, and you got a two thumbs up performance from the home team, which returns to action on Sunday at Vanderbilt to close the regular season.
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