Record Crowd Sees Tigers Improve to 20-0

A terrific crowd saw seniors DeWanna Bonner and Whitney Boddie plus sophomore Alli Smalley lead the Tigers to an SEC women's hoops win vs. UT.

Auburn, Ala.--With a standing-room-only sellout crowd of 12,067 watching, senior DeWanna Bonner scored a career-high 35 points as the sixth-ranked Tigers knocked off the 10th-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols 82-68 in a battle for first place in SEC women's basketball.

Bonner contributed six of Auburn's 12 steals as the Tigers scored 16 fastbreak points to none for UT. Auburn scored 29 points off turnovers, 10 more than the Lady Vols.

Auburn improved to 5-0 in the SEC and 20-0 overall, the second best start to a season in school history behind 28 wins in 1988-89. Tennessee fell to 4-2 in the SEC and 15-4 overall.

"I thought our turnovers were very costly," UT head coach Pat Summitt said.

Auburn coach Nell Fortner said she was excited about the way the Tigers played and excited about the crowd, which was the largest at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum for a men's or women's game since the coliseum was reconfigured to put coaches offices overlooking the north side of the arena.

"I think we played some very good basketball, some very inspired basketball and I am very proud of these kids," Fortner said. "I can't say enough about the fans coming out the way they did and the growth of this program the last five years. I am extremely proud and will work as hard as I can to keep it going."

The crowd was almost 5,000 better than the school record of 7,150 set in Jan. 1989, also against Tennessee and UT coach Pat Summitt was there for that game, too.

"It's about time those Auburn fans got in the gym to watch their women play basketball," Summitt said. "I think Coach Fortner has done a great job and has got a great team."

Auburn's players celebrate the victory with their fans on Sunday at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

Fortner said going into the game she wasn't worried her Tigers would have stage fright in front of the big crowd. Even though the Tigers got off to a slow start offensively, she attributed that more to Tennessee's good play on defense.

"We have had some nice home crowds," she points out. "I can't say enough about the mental toughness of this team. They don't get rattled easily. They are very focused and very hungry to reach their goals and that keeps them very grounded.

"I was thought at the beginning of the game I was thinking that maybe they were a little bit (tight) because we just couldn't get rolling, but I don't think that was it at all. I just thought it was a tough battle. We were battling. Tennessee is a very good defensive team and they are big. We were just having to find our way and in the second half we did."

Leading by 31-26 at halftime, the Tigers outscored the Lady Vols 51-42 in the second half.

After UT cut the lead to three at 34-31, Auburn outscored the visitors 10-0 to stretch the lead to 13 points with 16:10 left on a layup by sophomore guard Alli Smalley, who scored 16 points and added four assists and didn't have a turnover.

The lead jumped to 16 points when Bonner nailed a long-range three with 13:22 to play. The lead grew to 24 points at 73-49 on a jump shot by senior Sherell Hobbs, who scored eight points.

The Lady Vols then made a run and cut the lead to 73-63 with 1:44 to play, but the Tigers made their free throws down the stretch as Tennessee was forced to foul.

"I thought that was a great run," Fortner said of Auburn's strong start in the second half. "We changed up our defense. We pressed them in a little soft press and changed our zone. I think that made a difference. We made some steals and got our running game going and that is a good thing for us...We got a big enough lead to withstand their run."

Fortner thanks the fans for attending after the Tigers defeated the Lady Vols for the first time since defeating them in the championship game of the 1997 SEC Tournament in Chattanooga.

Fortner, who didn't substitute much in the game, said she believes her team got tired in the closing minutes and said she plans to substitute more as the season progresses. "I didn't feel like like I could use my bench at the time because Tennessee can score in bunches and it is a different ball game," she said.

Bonner said the Tigers will need to work on doing a better job of handling a big lead. "We got out of what we were doing trying to slow down and run the clock out," Bonner said "Now we have got something to on in practice. When we need to run some clock we need to keep playing hard and push the tempo and get easy baskets."

Boddie said she should have done a better job of handling the basketball late in the game. "I will take the blame for that, too. A lot of those were my turnovers."

The Tigers got 17 points from senior point guard Boddie, who added nine assists, but had eight turnovers, which is highly unusual for the senior.

Tennessee got 26 points from freshman forward Shekinna Stricklen and 13 points and 10 rebounds from another freshman, Glory Johnson. "I just give it to Auburn," Stricklen said. "I give them a lot of credit. They got all of the hustle plays. They looked like they wanted it more than we did."

Senior point guard Whitney Boddie shoots vs. the Lady Vols.

Auburn outrebounded UT 31-30 with Bonner leading the Tigers with nine boards.

For the game, the Tigers shot 48.2 percent from the field and made 4-13 threes and 24-29 free throws. The Lady Vols hit 47.3 percent from the field and 10-13 free throws. UT was 6-20 on threes.

Fortner said that she wasn't surprised that Bonner scored 35 vs. Tennessee. "I think she is a great player," the Auburn coach said. "At some point, more people will see her player and they will realize that."

Bonner said the win was a big one not because of her scoring, but because she and the other seniors had never beaten Tennessee. "I was just so excited," she said.

Bonner noted the crowd that arrived early. By the time the Tigers came out on the floor for pre-game warmups there were at least 7,000 people in the arena and there were thousands of people waiting to get into the coliseum when the gates opened 90 minutes before tipoff. Bonner joked, "I couldn't even find a parking spot."

Two hours before tipoff thousands of fans were lined up to get into the game or buy tickets.

Boddie said the crowd was "awesome" and added, "There were a lot of people there. I hope they come back. They were like the sixth man, for sure."

Boddie added that she didn't think the Tigers were tentative playing in front of the big crowd that was packed to the ceiling with other fans standing in the concourses to see the game. "No, we were loose," she said. "That's the reason we came to Auburn to play in big games and have crowds like this and play Tennessee and beat them. I don't think we were nervous by any means."

The Tigers led most of the first half with the largest margin eight points on a rebound by Boddie with eight seconds left. However, UT's Briana Bass banked in a halfcourt shot to beat the buzzer to cut Auburn's halftime advantage to 31-26.

At intermission the Tigers led despite being outshot 48 percent to 37 percent from the field, but Auburn was 9-12 at the foul line while the Lady Vols didn't take a free throw in the first 20 minutes.

Bonner, who led the Tigers with 14 points at halftime, made 8-9 free throws. Smalley added 11 points for the Tigers, who had seven turnovers at halftime, six fewer than Tennessee, which led in rebounding 16-15.

UT's Summitt is holding at 998 career victories after losing to the Tigers for the first time in a decade.

"I am going to give Auburn the credit," she said. "They played well as a unit. Their big three scorers just stepped up. Bonner is a special player. She can play inside, outside and she plays off the bounce. She has really elevated her game. That made a big difference today.

"Obviously, we did not guard the three ball," Summitt said. "Hopefully, we will get a little better at that. I thought [Alli] Smalley was great moving without the ball. She just did a lot of good things there.

"We have a young basketball team and a lot of growing pains with a young team. I still think there is a great upside to where we can grow and get to by the end of our SEC regular season. I am learning something about patience."

The Tigers return to action on Thursday at Georgia with a 6 p.m. CST start.

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