Streak continues with women's win over Auburn
Going into Sunday afternoon's game, the Tigers led the Southeastern Conference in blocked shots, averaging 8.6 blocked shots per game, led by 6-5 senior Marita Payne. This year Payne has been joined in the starting Auburn front court by 6-7 freshman Keke Carrier and 6-4 freshman DeWanna Bonner. The trio combined for eleven blocked shots, the most blocked shots ever by a Vanderbilt opponent.
Auburm's formidable height played havoc early on with the Vanderbilt offense. "It's difficult because you aren't used to it," said Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb after the game. "We got down a lot because we weren't used to it, and we were intimidated and hesitated on everything."
The early struggle inside helped the Tigers build a 21-10 lead before Thomas scored Vanderbilt's first points in the paint more than 12 minutes into the game. "Basically, if Caroline Williams didn't score, we didn't score," Balcomb said.
By the time Vanderbilt began to adjust to Auburn's height, the Tigers led by 13 points at 25-12 with 6:29 remaining in the first half. Then freshman guard Jen Risper got the Commodores going in the right direction with a drive to the basket, then dumping off to Liz Sherwood for an easy basket as the Auburn posts rotated in the attempt to block Risper's shot.
For the rest of the half, Vanderbilt chipped away at the lead, highlighted by three free throws by Williams after she was fouled on a 3-point attempt and a 3-pointer from Cherish Stringfield. By the end of the half, the Commodores had cut the deficit down to just three points at 27-24.
The Vanderbilt comeback continued in the second half, with Williams' third 3-pointer of the game tying the score at 29-29 at the 18:54 mark. But the Commodores couldn't pull ahead, and Auburn slowly regained the upper hand, as an old-fashioned 3-point play by freshman point guard Whitney Boddie gave the Tigers an 8-point lead at 44-36 with 11:17 remaining.
For a couple of minutes, the teams traded baskets, then once again, Vanderbilt staged a comeback, bracketed by a pair of 3-pointers. Stringfield's 3-pointer on an inbounds play from under the Vanderbilt basket cut Auburn's lead to five with 9:15 left in the game, and Williams' fourth 3-pointer with 4:03 remaining gave the Commodores their first lead of the game at 52-51.
Auburn reclaimed the lead at 53-52 on a jumper by Payne with 2:11 left, but Carrier fouled Thomas to send her to the free throw line for a 1-and-1 opportunity with 1:39 left on the clock. After the final media timeout, Thomas hit both free throws to give the lead back to the Commodores at 54-53.
On Auburn's possession, Davis drew a charge, but Vanderbilt couldn't capitalize. But neither could Auburn, and as the game clock wound down to 20 seconds, Stringfield grabbed the defensive rebound of a miss by Boddie and passed off to Davis. Auburn was then forced to foul. With Vanderbilt in the double bonus, Davis had two shots. She missed the first, but hit the second to give the Commodores a two-point lead with 15 seconds remaining in the game.
Auburn then called a timeout to set up a play, but Nitasha Brown, who led all scorers in the game with 19 points, missed a 3-pointer. Thomas, who grabbed the rebound, was immediately fouled and hit both of her free throws to pad the Vanderbilt lead to four points at 57-53 with seven seconds remaining. With time expiring, Brown missed another 3-point attempt, and Vanderbilt emerged victorious.
With the victory, Vanderbilt improves to 16-7 overall, 5-4 in the SEC, while Auburn falls to 12-10 overall, 3-6 in the SEC. After having played four of their last five games on the road, the Commodores now have four of their next five games at home. The home stand begins on Thursday night at 7 p.m. when Vanderbilt will seek revenge against the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks, who defeated the Commodores in overtime in Fayetteville to begin the SEC schedule last month.
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