The Tigers had the basketball with 3.1 seconds left on an in-bounds play and got it to senior Sherell Hobbs, whose off-balance three-point try from the corner hit the rim and fell off to allow the Commodores to pull into a tie for first place in the SEC with the Tigers at 10-2 in the league.
Sophomore guard Alli Smalley, who didn't score in the first half, led the second half charge for the Tigers, who trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half and 16 at intermission.
Smalley scored 15 points including three late three-pointers. Her last basket, an acrobatic layup, cut the Vandy lead to 71-68 with 46 seconds left.
The Commodores then missed a shot and Auburn cut the gap to 71-70 as Whitney Boddie grabbed the rebound and threw a long pass to Trevesha Jackson, who scored a layup with 11.6 seconds remaining.
Auburn then fouled on the in-bounds play, but Vandy got the ball to a 92 percent foul shooter, Meredith Marsh, and she hit two free throws to stretch the lead to three points with 11 seconds left.
That set up the final shot opportunity for Auburn after Vandy fouled with 3.1 seconds left. Just the fifth foul for the home team, Auburn got the ball at sidecourt and set up the final play for Hobbs, who led all scorers with 19 points. The senior from Huntsville hit 8-15 field goals.
DeWanna Bonner scored 13 points and added seven rebounds for the Tigers as she became the third player in Auburn women's basketball history to reach the 2,000 points mark.
Boddie added 10 points with eight assists for the Tigers.
Auburn, which is ranked third, fell to 25-2.
"The loss is disappointing, but it is not the end of the world," Auburn Nell Fortner said. "It is tough on the road, it is very tough to play on the road in this conference. Our shots were not falling in the first half, but we did some nice things in the second half. I was really proud of our effort."
At halftime the Tigers trailed 40-24 and were outplayed in every phase of the game. Vandy hit 60.7 percent of its field goals in the first 20 minutes while the Tigers made just 31 percent.
Auburn didn't help its cause with nine first half turnovers. The second half was much better in that area as Auburn finished the game with 12 turnovers, the same total as Vandy.
Hobbs led the Tigers at the break with nine points while Bonner scored seven.
Vandy was sparked to its big lead by Rhoads, who scored a dozen first half points despite averaging just 5.3 points per game.
The Tigers cut the Vandy lead to single digits with 9:26 left to play when Bonner scored a layup on a pass from Reneisha Hobbs.
However, the Commodores were able to do just enough to hold off the Tigers, who shot 47.8 percent for the game to 56 percent for the home team.
Another difference was at the foul where Vandy hit 15-20 shots. Auburn was 6-10 on free throws.
Auburn held a 30-29 rebounding edge and hit 4-12 threes while Vandy made 2-12.
Auburn returns to action with a 2 p.m. home game at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum against Georgia, the only other team that has defeated Auburn this year.