Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn women's basketball team (18-7, 6-4) used a balanced attack to hold off a pesky South Carolina team (13-12, 2-8) Sunday on its way to a 83-72 win. The Tigers won a heated rivalry matchup at the free-throw line and gave their NCAA Tournament hopes another boost.
"We have almost developed this rivalry with Auburn over the last couple of years," South Carolina coach Susan Walvius said. "They knocked us out of the NCAA tournament two years ago, we probably knocked them out of the tournament last year. Every time we play, for the last couple of years, has been a battle."
The crowd of pink-clad fans, in honor of breast-cancer awareness, was excited to see the Auburn win and coach Nell Fortner was proud to see the fans participating in the "Think Pink" campaign. Coach Fortner and the other Auburn coaches wore pink sneakers along with their usual business suits.
"It was a big day for basketball for Auburn," Fortner said. "It was a great cause, the promotion for the game being breast cancer awareness, and then to win an SEC game. So it was a good day."
Auburn was led by its starters with its bench only adding six points to the cause. DeWanna Bonner scored a quiet 18 points with all but six of those coming from the line. She did not find her rhythm early, missing all five of her field goal attempts in the first half. Alli Smalley's free-throw shooting was also big for the Tigers as she added six from the charity stripe. Smalley finished with 18 points of her own. Sherell Hobbs also scored 18 for the Tigers as they shot just 45.3 percent from the floor for the game, but made 29 free throws compared to just eight for South Carolina.
"I wasn't really focused on my scoring," Bonner said. "I think I did a good job on the glass. Sherell came out firing today so I let her shoot and I tried to get the rebound."
Bonner grabbed 12 rebounds and added three blocks, two assists and two steals to continue filling out the box score as she has all season.
"For whatever reason, Bonner doesn't play well against South Carolina," Fortner said. "She came back in the second half and did a great job of getting to the free-throw line. I mean, 12-13 from the line and 18 points is a nice day at the office. She just had to get her points a different way today. She had to come back and be determined to do that in the second half, and that's what I'm really proud of."
Tamela Mccorvey was big late in the contest, knocking down key three-pointers to keep the Gamecocks at bay.
"That's probably the best South Carolina has played all year long," Fortner said. "I thought we knocked down some big threes in the second half. Every one of Tamela Mccorvey's threes came at a great time. It seems like she was a lot more than three-for-five today because they were such big threes. It was just a matter of us being able to match their runs. When they made runs at us in the second half, we came back and made big shots."
South Carolina took 61 shots in the game and made 49.2 percent of them. It took great free-throw shooting by Auburn, to the tune of 76.3 percent to keep the Gamecocks out of the win column. The Tigers, though, were expecting a battle.
"I wasn't surprised because they are bigger than us on the inside," Hobbs said. "They have a 6-4 three-guard and obviously, I'm not 6-4. That was kind of difficult. We were focused on boxing out and not letting them get offensive rebounds."
"Coach told us to keep being aggressive and go to the basket because they are foul-prone," Hobbs said. "So we kept attacking the basket and they kept fouling. They fouled DeWanna especially, but she knocked down her free-throws."
The game grew fairly chippy down the stretch when Jordan Greenleaf was called for a technical foul after she blew a kiss to former AAU teammate Jordan Jones of South Carolina.
"They know each other pretty well, it was all part of the friendly spirit," Hobbs said.
Auburn is now 18-7 overall and 6-4 in the conference. If the Tigers win one of their next three, they will finish with a .500 winning percentage in conference and be on the bubble for selection into the field of 64. If they win two or all three of their remaining games, matchups at Ole Miss and Georgia followed by a home date with Vanderbilt, the Tigers would likely be a lock for the big dance.
"I think we have to take each game one at a time," Hobbs said. "We had goals in the preseason and we have to take it one game at a time and focus on winning, not worrying about what's coming or what's about to happen and let that take care of itself."