Abi Ramsey led the Vanderbilt scoring attack with 22 points, including four 3-pointers, but perhaps the most significant statistic for the game was a total of 18 steals by the Commodores. In all Vanderbilt forced 24 Auburn turnovers, leading to 33 points.
Auburn opened the game on a 6-0 run, and the Commodores didn't score for more than three minutes until Carla Thomas finally broke the ice. The freshman center would score Vanderbilt's first eight points of the game.
After starting out in the hole, then falling behind by ten points at 16-6 with 12:18 left in the first half, the Commodores slowly worked their way back into the game. Consecutive 3-pointers from Hillary Hager and Ramsey tied the score at 22-22 with 5:48 left in the half.
After climbing up the hill, Vanderbilt couldn't quite get over the top, and Auburn pulled ahead again to lead by as much as five. But the Commodores kept it close and at halftime trailed by only three points at 34-31.
Jenni Benningfield opened the scoring the second half to pull Vanderbilt to within a point, and Mandisa Stevenson immediately answered for Auburn. But Thomas scored on a jumper, and point guard Dee Davis scored on a fast break to give the Commodores their first lead of the game at 37-36 two minutes into the second half.
For the next six minutes, the teams battled to gain the upper hand, but neither could establish a lead of more than three points. With 12:44 left in the second half, the score was knotted once again at 46-46.
Ramsey sank a jumper, and junior forward Ashley Earley, who was doubled-teamed in the post, heard Hager calling for the ball on the perimeter, dished it out to her for a successful three. On the other end of the court, a steal by Earley led to a layup by Ramsey on the fastbreak. Auburn called timeout, but out of the timeout, Abi Ramsey stole the ball just before a media timeout. When play resumed, freshman guard Caroline Williams missed a jumper, but Thomas grabbed the offensive board and put it back. Then a couple of Auburn turnovers eventually led to a jumper by Ashley Earley.
When the damage was done, Vanderbilt had reeled off an 11-0 run to take a 57-46 lead with 9:48 left.
The Tigers stopped the bleeding, but from that point on, they had to play catch-up. With 5:44 left a jumper by Marita Payne cut the lead to 57-52, prompting Vanderbilt to call a 30-second time out. Afterwards Hager drove to the basket, was fouled, but sank the basket and the resulting free throw to restore the Vanderbilt lead back to eight points.
From there on, the tenacious Commodore defense successfully fended off the Auburn attack, and with a minute left Vanderbilt led the Tigers by a score of 64-54. Auburn began to foul, sending Davis went to the line for a one-and-one. She missed the front end, but Earley grabbed the offensive rebound, and the Auburn fans began heading for the exits.
On Davis' next attempt, she sank both ends of the one-and-one, putting Vandy up by 12 at 66-54. Auburn managed a few more baskets, but it was too little, too late; the Commodores escaped with a 68-60 victory.
For the game, Vanderbilt shot 45% from the field, while Auburn shot 51%. However, from 3-point range, the Tigers shot only 1-of-14 for 7.1%, while the Commodores connected on 7-of-22 for 31.8%. Auburn held the edge on the boards with 33 rebounds to 30 for Vanderbilt; but Vanderbilt forced 24 Auburn turnovers, while only turning the ball over 16 times themselves.
Next action for the Commodores is Thursday night in Memorial Gym, when they host Mississippi State in the final home game of the season. Seniors Jenni Benningfield, Hillary Hager, Jutta Korkko, and Venessa Ferragamo will be honored in Senior Night activities. In addition, the game is the annual book drive for the Charles Davis Foundation. Anyone bringing a book appropriate for 7-18 year-olds will receive free admission to the game.
POST GAME COMMENTS
First, Auburn forward Le'Coe Willingham and guard Natasha Brackett answered questions from the press.
The Press: Natasha, it looked like almost a replay of Nashville. Is there something that they were doing to get y'all out of your game?
Natasha: No, not really. I think we just kind of played kind of careless and didn't take care of the ball.
The Press: Le'Coe, what is it about Vandy? It seems like Vandy's got Auburn's number somehow.
Le'Coe: We have lost the last four against them, but I don't know if they have our number. It's just us not taking care of the ball. I think we had entirely too many turnovers and didn't take advantage of the press and running the ball like we did in the first (inaudible)
The Press: Talk about the rebounding inside. They rebounded with you. You edged them slightly, but they had a lot of offensive rebounds.
Le'Coe: I think it's all about five people crashing the boards. Everybody wasn't crashing the boards tonight.
The Press: What does this loss do? Does it take you out of the second seed and kind of put your backs against the wall?
Natasha: It's a tough thing to take and everything, but today's over, and we've got to look to Thursday and the next game after that and try to learn from this and get better.
The Press: Le'Coe, were they doing something to keep you from getting the ball into your hands?
Le'Coe: No, I guess they were pressuring the point guards kind of hard and they couldn't see inside. I don't think the person on me did anything spectacular.
The Auburn players left, and Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb came into the room for questions.
Coach Balcomb: I think the biggest thing was we really tried to be aggressive again defensively and force a lot of opportunities off our defense. We pressed them, trapped them, tried to switch things up and just off-guard defensively, and then we tried also to be aggressive on the offensive boards, and I think we did a good job, getting 12 offensive rebounds. But I think we executed the game plan we wanted and were aggressive.
The Press: The last time Auburn lost was an overtime game in Knoxville, what is it about ya'll that gives them such a hard time?
Coach Balcomb: I think it's a good matchup for us. We play a lot of zone, and we force them to take outside shots. They play a lot of zone, and we were second in the country in 3-point shooting, so we like to see zones. So it's all about matchups. It's about their strengths and our weaknesses, and the way we match up with them, I think.
The Press: You really crashed the offensive boards. You had all five players -- when Abi Ramsey is your leading rebounder, that says a lot about what you're trying to do
Coach Balcomb: .Yeah, we've emphasized that the last couple of weeks, and that's really helped us because we shoot the ball really well, and it's difficult to get such a good field goal shooting team to rebound offensively. We've just made ourselves overall more aggresive, looking for tips and deflections, and that's part of what we've added to it, and they've really have taken it to heart, and they're just keeping the ball alive. We kept the ball alive and then hustled to get it, like Ashley Earley's offensive rebound down the stretch was huge. I thought it was the biggest play of the night, just keeping the ball alive and getting that extra rebound. And we had not been doing that. I think we shoot like we think we're going to make it all the time, (chuckle) which is good for confidence, but -- I think now we're just really hustling. Our effort is way better.
The Press: Can you talk about what you did to limit Le'Coe Willingham's opportunities in the second half?
Coach Balcomb: I don't know how many she had in the first half versus the second half, but we key on her. I think she's a tremendous player. I am so impressed with her and what she's able to do -- size, strength, and rebounding, and I think the world of her. So like I was talking earlier, it's a good matchup for us because we're going to play a lot of zone and pack it in on her, and that's going to be tough for her to match up with us because she's not going to get a lot of touches with the way we defend in our matchup. So it's to our advantage right there. We just tried to keep her off the boards. I don't know how many rebounds she ended up with -- eight, we kept her under her average. We wanted to do a better job than that, but I think she's the best rebounder in the league, and we really wanted to keep her off the glass.
Coach Balcomb left the room, and Whitney D. left also to talk with Abi Ramsey for a few minutes.
Whitney D: What happened to turn the team around after that loss at Alabama?
Abi: I think it was like a reality check for all of us. We had just lost four in a row... in the back of your head you know, OK, NCAA tournament, everything starts coming into focus. We knew that a lot of people are saying, "Hey, this is a young year for us," and that was becoming an excuse, and we knew that those are our strengths, because these people are young and people don't know who they are. So really, Coach just came in there with a new attitude and said, "This is what we're going to do; we're going to start attacking; everyone's going to be surprised if we come out with this new style."
WhitneyD: Some games you hit a lot of 3's and have a lot of opportunities and some games you don't. What are the factors that enter into whether you're hitting a lot from the outside or not?
Abi: If I'm hitting or if I have opportunities?
Abi: The biggest difference for me right now has been Dee Davis. I'm not going to lie. She's great off the draw and dish and finding me in the open court. Tonight I can't say how many times she would get the offensive rebound. She'd bring it out, she'd draw in, and I'd be open and looking for the three. For me personally, that's probably the biggest difference right now.