Florida jumped out to an early 6-0 lead and by the middle of the first half, they had established a 9-point lead at 20-11. But eight straight points from Auburn freshman point guard Nicole Louden brought to Tigers to within 1 point. Florida, however, was able to hold on to their lead until a layup by Le'Coe Willingham with 3:45 left in the first half gave the Tigers their first lead of the game.
And from there on, Auburn controlled the game. By the end of the first half , the Tigers held a 36-30 lead. Florida briefly cut the lead to 4 points early in the second half, but through most of the half, Auburn steadily pulled away, reaching a double digit advantage at 52-42 with 14:38 left in the half, and their biggest lead of the night at 60-44 with 5:55 remaining. Very aggressive defense helped the Lady Gators to cut the lead to 9 with 3:31 remaining at 62-53, but they could get no closer than that. When the final buzzer sounded, Auburn had earned the right to meet Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals on Friday evening.
Auburn was led in scoring and rebounding by Le'Coe Willingham with 22 points and 10 boards. Nicole Louden addded 12, Natasha Brackett 12, and LaKeisha Johnson had 10. Johnson also added 9 boards. Courtney Cooper led the Lady Gators with 20 points, and Vanessa Hayden scored 19 points and pulled down 14 rebounds.
By coincidence, Friday's matchup between Vanderbilt and Auburn follows only five days after Vanderbilt's 72-54 victory over Auburn Sunday afternoon in Memorial Gym.
"It's makes it easy for Joe because the game plan is in my briefcase," said Auburn Head Coach Joe Ciampi after tonight's game. "That game plan wasn't done too well [on Sunday]. Right now we know who we are and what we can accomplish. We know our strengths and we'll try to play to our strengths. Vanderbilt is such a great shooting team, and they have so many weapons that we're just going to try to pick our poison and go from there."
Other first round action:
Georgia 64, Alabama 60. In the opening game, #9-seeded Georgia defeated #8-seeded Alabama by the score of 64-60. The game was close through most of the first half, with Georgia leading by only 1 point at 19-18 with 5:15 remaining in the half. But by halftime, the Lady Bulldogs had bult a 30-22 lead. In the second half, Georgia couldn't put the game away, but Alabama couldn't catch up either. For most of the half, Georgia's lead wavered between 4-8 points. Beth Vice's 3-pointer at the buzzer cut the lead to 4, the smallest lead of the second half. Camille Murphy led Georgia with 17 points, and SEC Freshman of the Year Kara Braxton added 9. LaNisha Cartwell led Alabama with 15, followed by Shondra Johnson with 14, and Beth Vice with 10. Georgia will meet the Tennessee Lady Vols on Friday at noon.
Arkansas 78, Ole Miss 60 . Dana Cherry scored 22 points and India Lewis added 17 to carry the #7-seeeded Arkansas Lady Razorbacks to a 78-60 victory over the #10-seeded Ole Miss Rebels. Ole Miss' only lead of the night came on a made free throw by Tywanna Inman, the first point of the game. After that, although the Lady Rebels stayed within single digits for most of the game, they couldn't catch up again. With five minutes left, the wheels started to come off, and Arkansas rolled on to the 78-60 victory. With the victory, the Lady Razorbacks advance to a second round game with South Carolina at 2:15 on Friday.
Kentucky 75, Mississippi State 72. The 12th-seeded Kentucky Wildcats pulled off the biggest upset of the day with a 75-72 victory over the #5-seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs. The teams played neck-and-neck through the first half, with 5 ties and 8 lead changes and a halftime score tied at 36-36. As the second half began, it looked as if the Bulldogs were going to pull away . By the 11:03 mark, they had built an 8-point lead at 55-47. But Kentucky started to chip away until a basket by Danyel Payne with 3:25 remaining tied the score at 65-65. In the final minutes of the game, both teams had the chance to put the game away, but when the smoke cleared, Kentucky had earned the right to meet the LSU Lady Tigers at 6 p.m. on Friday.