And that's how the game went for much of the first half. Auburn would go on a short run to take the lead and threaten to pull away, then the Commodores would counter with a run of their own to narrow the gap.
But for Vanderbilt, it was a game of catchup. After Auburn took the opening lead in the game, the Tigers didn't lose the lead for the remainder of the first half. They would pull ahead, and while Vanderbilt would come back, the Commodores couldn't quite make it over the hump and instead would slide back down the hill.
For example, with 6:42 left in the first half, Auburn led by seven points at 20-13. A few minutes later, Vanderbilt caught up to tie the game at 27-27 on a jumper by Dee Davis, Then the Tigers spurted ahead again to take a seven point lead at 38-31 into the locker room at halftime.
Coming out of the locker room, a 9-0 run by gave Vanderbilt the lead for the first time in the game at 41-40 with 15 minutes left in the game. For the next few minutes, the teams traded baskets and foul shots. Then, midway through the half, Auburn began to pull away again and with eight minutes left in the game, the Tigers held an 8-point lead at 59-51.
Then sophomore guard Cherish Stringfield found Thomas under the basket. Thomas scored, drew the foul and, after a timeout, made the free throw. Then senior guard Abi Ramsey got the ball to Earley who scored, cutting the Auburn lead to 3 points at 59-56.
Louden scored for Auburn, then, with the shot clock about to expire, Davis drove to the basket. She missed the shot, but Thomas was ready for the rebound and got the putback to keep the Commodores within 3 points at 61-58. Then on the other end of the court sophomore guard Katie Antony drew a charge on Natasha Brackett, and Vanderbilt was able to capitalize on a basket by Thomas to cut the Tiger lead to just one point. A few minutes later, Antony scored on a baseline drive to tie the game at 64-64 with 2:57 left in the game.
After a timeout, Thomas pulled down a critical defensive rebound, and on Vanderbilt's possession, Earley was fouled. Her first foul shot gave the lead back to Vanderbilt at 65-64. She missed the second shot, but Thomas got the rebound, and Earley subsequently scored on an assist from Davis to put the Commodores up 67-64. Auburn turned the ball over, and Thomas scored again.
With 45 seconds left and trailing by six points, Auburn began to foul, but it was too little too late, and when the smoke cleared, Vanderbilt claimed the 73-67 victory.
Both teams shot well from the field. For the game Vanderbilt shot 52.9%, while Auburn shot 49.1%. After hitting 11 3-pointers in their SEC opener against South Carolina, the Commodores made only one 3-point basket in five attempts. Auburn was 5 of 14 from 3-point range. Auburn was perfect from the free throw line at 6 for 6, but the Commodores had a lot more chances, hitting 18 of 27 free throw attempts (66.7%).
The rebounding battle was a tale of two halves. In the first half, Auburn out-rebounded Vanderbilt 17-15. But in the second half, the Commodores out-rebounded the Tigers 19-7. In the first half, Auburn had 12 ten offensive rebounds; in the second half, they only had two. Auburn held a slight edge in turnovers with 15 compared to 17 for Vanderbilt.
With the victory, Vanderbilt improves to 13-2 overall (2-0 SEC) while Auburn falls to 9-6 (0-2 SEC). The Commodores now return home to host the Tennessee Lady Volunteers on Sunday afternoon in Memorial Gym. Gametime is 2 p.m., and the game will be televised on Fox Sports Net.
Auburn's Marita Payne (10) blocks the shot of Vanderbilt's Ashley Earley (32) in the first half Thursday, Jan. 13, 2005, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Cliff Williams)