AU Sends Lady Gators Packing At SEC Tournament

The women's basketball team knocked off a second highly ranked team in its last three games with a strong start at the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament in Nashville.

Nashville, Tenn.--With strong play from sophomore Le'Coe Willingham and its bench, Auburn put a 70-57 whipping on 15th-ranked Florida on Thursday night in the opening round of the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament.

Willingham hit eight of nine field goals and produced a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds. She added three assists and a blocked shot and played the ironwoman role as she never left the floor at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.

With a pair of freshmen reserves leading the way, the Auburn bench outscored the Florida bench 23-2. Backup point guard Nicole Louden contributed 12 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in 29 minutes. Backup shooting guard Natasha Brackett chipped in with 11 points, three assists, two rebounds, one block and one steal in 24 minutes.

Keisha Johnson was the fourth Tiger in double figures. She scored 10 points and pulled down nine rebounds and added three steals, one block and one assist.

Despite the upset loss, Florida is a lock for the NCAA Tournament with an 8-6 regular season conference record. The Gators are 18-10 overall.

Auburn would have to win the tournament to make the NCAA field with its 3-11 regular season SEC mark. The Tigers improved their overall record to 16-11.

Florida jumped to a quick 6-0 lead, but Auburn tied the game at 20-20 on a rebound basket by Willingham after Louden sparked the AU comeback with a pair of three-pointers.

Auburn took its first lead on a put-back score by Willingham, giving the Tigers a 29-28 lead with 3:42 left in the first half.

Auburn stretched the lead to 36-30 at halftime. Coach Joe Ciampi's club held the Lady Gators to 33.3 percent shooting in the first half and allowed the losers to make just 9-33 (27.3 percent) second half shots. In contrast, the Tigers were a consistent 49.1 percent in the first half and 48.1 percent in the second period.

The Tigers turned up the heat defensively in the second half, stretching the margin to 43-34. The Gators cut the gap to five points at 45-40. However, Auburn kept its poise and stretched the margin to 55-43 at the 11:45 mark.

Auburn continued to add to its lead, increasing it to 60-44 with 5:52 left on a rebound basket by reserve center Chris Correia.

Florida cut the gap to 62-53, but a 6-0 Auburn run put the game out of reach as Brackett's layup stretched the lead to 15 points with less than two minutes to play.

All-SEC center Vanessa Hayden had a double-double for the Gators with 19 points and 14 rebounds, but made just 6-15 field goals. Courtney Cooper, who made 8-10 shots, was the leading Lady Gator scorer with 20 points.

Auburn draws third-seed Vanderbilt in the quarter-finals. Tipoff is set for 8:15 p.m. and the game will be televised regionally by CSS.

Box Score

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