Tigers Cruise to Easy Win In NCAA Opener

DeWanna Bonner led the Tigers as Auburn defeated Lehigh by 36 points to open play in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.

Piscataway, N.J.--Auburn took control in the first half and coasted to an 85-49 victory over Lehigh in the opening round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.

The SEC regular season champions improved to 30-3 with the victory and will play at 6 p.m. CDT vs. seventh seed Rutgers, a 57-51 victory over 11th seed VCU in the second half of the doubleheader. Rutgers will have homecourt advantage on Monday in a game that will be televised by ESPN2.

All 10 healthy players on the Auburn roster scored for the Tigers as SEC Player of the Year DeWanna Bonner led all scorers with 26 points and she added seven rebounds.

Bonner made 8-14 field goals and 10-10 free throws for the Tigers, who hit 53.8 percent of their field goals and held Lehigh to 30 percent field goal shooting.

Lehigh tried to use a triangle and two defense that had been effective on Bonner in the SEC Tournament championship game. However, that didn't slow the senior down.

"I went back and watched some film on how I can score and what I can do so I tried to use my speed and my height over them and that is what I did in the first and second half. Coach told me to go down there and post up and we got a lot of open looks. After a while, after my teammates started scoring, they had to get out of it."

The Tigers got 11 points and eight rebounds from senior Trevesha Jackson. Another post player, junior KeKe Carrier, scored 11 points and added seven rebounds--all in the second half.

Freshman forward Chantel Hilliard scored 10 points and added two rebounds as a reserve.

Senior point guard Whitney Boddie directed the offense with nine assists and added eight points. The All-SEC player finished with six rebounds and had three of Auburn's 11 blocked shots. She turned the ball over just one time in 31 minutes of court time.

Sophomore guard Alli Smalley scored eight points for the Tigers.

Erica Prosser led Lehigh with 14 points.

"I was pleased with the effort of everyone," Nell Fortner said after getting her first NCAA Tournament win as head coach of the Tigers.

After a slow start the Tigers took control and quickly turned a 4-4 game into a 25-7 lead. The Tigers were never seriously challenged after that.

Commenting on the start of the game, Bonner said, "I think we were just anxious. I think everybody wanted to go out there and just do their best and go out there and have fun.

"We haven't played in a while, almost two weeks, so we were anxious to get out there," she added. "When we got out there, we kind of had to calm down and think about what we were doing on offense, how we are going to get open shots, and that is what we did."

Boddie got the run started with a mid-range jump shot at the 16:24 mark. Smalley then hit a three from the wing and Bonner got her first points with a short baseline jumper.

Auburn then got its first fastbreak basket as Sherell Hobbs scored to make the lead 13-4. At the 14:04 mark the Tigers were ahead 15-4 as Bonner hit two free throws.

Lehigh ended its scoring drought with a three-pointer, but the Tigers responded with an inside basket by Bonner to start a 10-0 run to stretch the lead to 25-7.

Boddie said the first half spurts are typical of the way the Tigers play. "We just like to push the ball and play hard," she said. "We did kind of start slow, but as Dee (DeWanna) said we have been out of it for about two weeks. We had to get back in the flow of the game and try to calm down and play our game.

"I think our defense stepped up," Boddie said. "Our defense usually leads to offense."

At halftime the Tigers led 45-30 as Bonner was the leading scorer with 17 points to go with four rebounds. Trevesha Jackson scored nine first half points and added four rebounds while Boddie scored eight in the first half.

Auburn shot an even 50 percent in the first 20 minutes making 18-36 field goals. Lehigh hit 13-30 field goals and 2-7 threes. Auburn was 1-4 on threes in the first half.

At the break the Tigers were 8-10 at the foul line compared to 2-4 for the Patriot League champions, who had 11 turnovers to just three for Auburn. The Tigers held a 19-18 edge in rebounding and blocked seven shots in the opening 20 minutes.

Auburn's biggest lead of the first half was 18 points.

After giving up the first four points of the second half, the Tigers allowed the Mountain Hawks just 15 more points the rest of the game while scoring 40 themselves.

The Tigers built the lead to 20 on a pair of free throws by Bonner early in the second half to make the score 52-32.

Fortner, who used her bench throughout the first half, got to play her subs substantially in the second half with the game out of reach for the Mountain Hawks.

Boddie said how the reserves played was a big plus for the Tigers. "It was real important for the future and for now. People tend to think we don't have a bench or whatever, but they can play. They can flat-out play and think today they showed that. They did a good job of coming out and making good defensive stops and pushing the ball--just doing what we do, keeping the momentum going."

Fortner said she liked the bench play, too, and added, "I thought we came out and played with great intensity and focus. I was just really pleased with the effort."

Auburn out-rebounded Lehigh 42-29 and had just 10 turnovers, nine less than the losers.

Auburn was 2-6 on threes and 15-25 at the free throw line. Lehigh made 4-22 threes and 9-15 foul shots.

The Tigers finished the game with 10 steals while Lehigh had just one.

Auburn Hoops Notes: Senior point guard Boddie became Auburn's all-time leader in assists in the first half surpassing Renae Holbrooks who played for the Tigers from 1978-82. She now has 600 in her career...Auburn improved its all-time record in NCAA women's tournament games to 29-17...Auburn is a No 2 seed for just the second time and 5-1 all-time as a two seed...The Tigers have a 39-4 record the past two seasons with Boddie playing...The Tigers outscored Lehigh 42-18 in points in the paint.

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