Jan. 25, 2009
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AUBURN - Auburn Senior DeWanna Bonner posted a career-high 35 points and nine rebounds in front of a record-breaking crowd at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum as sixth-ranked Auburn (20-0, 5-0 SEC) defeated defending national champion Tennessee (15-4, 4-2 SEC), 82-68. The crowd of 12,067 shattered the previous attendance record of 7,150 that dated back to the Jan. 6, 1989 matchup between the two sides.
The Auburn win was the first over Tennessee since March 2, 1997 when the Tigers defeated the Lady Vols, 61-59, in the SEC Tournament semifinals. The victory is also the largest ever for Auburn over Tennessee with the previous high an eight-point win (67-59) on Jan. 7, 1989 in Auburn.
"I think we played some very good basketball, some very inspired basketball and I am very proud of these kids today," said Auburn head coach Nell Fortner. "I can't say enough for the fans and them coming out the way they did and the growth of this program over the past five years. I am just extremely proud and will work as hard as I can to keep that going."
Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt was also impressed with the crowd and the play of the Tigers, who are one of two undefeated teams left in the country.
"It's about time those Auburn fans got in the gym to watch their women play basketball," said Tennessee head coach Pat Summit. "I think Coach Fortner has done a great job and she has a great team. I think it is great that Auburn had this kind of crowd today and they have been having bigger crowds. This community needs to get behind their team - not just while they are winning, but every time they play. They have a special team."
Bonner put on a show for the masses, not only leading the Tigers in points but in rebounds with nine and steals with six. The Fairfield, Ala., native was also 14-of-16 from the charity stripe.
"DeWanna Bonner is a big-time player and big-time players play big-time basketball in big-time games and that is what she did," said Fortner. "She is a great player and at some point people will see her play and realize that."
The Tigers had three players score in double-digits including senior Whitney Boddie and sophomore Alli Smalley with 17 and 16, respectively.
"Tennessee played a great game," said Bonner. "They were so physical and 35 points against a team like that is hard to do. I was just so excited because it was so loud. It took a while to get a crowd like that, we've never had a crowd like that in my four years of playing here."
Both teams struggled to find rhythm in the first half as Auburn started just 5-of-16 from the field while the Lady Vols recorded eight turnovers in the opening 10 minutes of play.
"It wasn't the crowd, it was their defense," said Boddie. "Their defense kept stopping our transitions. They are long. I'm 5-7, so seeing over them was kind of hard."
Auburn almost pulled away at the end of the first half with Smalley scoring six-straight points to give Auburn a seven-point lead. The Lady Vols responded with an offensive flurry of their own, taking a 23-22 lead with 2:48 left on the clock. Auburn then took its largest lead to that point, taking an eight-point advantage before UT's Briana Bass hit a last-second bank shot to cut the margin to five, 31-36, going into the locker room.
In typical Auburn fashion, the Tigers adjusted their sites at the half and came out on a tear in the first part of the second half. Back-to-back three-point plays from Bonner and Boddie highlighted a 17-5 Auburn run to start the period, building a 15-point margin in the Tigers' favor.
"I thought that was a great run," said Fortner. "We changed up our defense and pressed them in a soft press and changed our zone. I think that made a difference. We got some steals and got our running game going. That is a good thing for us. We like to push the ball. I thought that was the difference in the ball game."
Auburn was able to hold off the Tennessee offense, slowly building the Tiger lead to 24 points with only 4:22 remaining on the game clock.
With Tennessee down but not out, the Lady Vol offense quieted the Auburn crowd with a 14-0 run that saw only 2:40 slip off the clock. The Tiger lead was cut to 10, but as the Tennessee fouls came, so dropped the Auburn free-throws. The Tigers shot 9-of-10 from the line in the closing minutes, with Bonner accounting for five.
Auburn dominated the turnover battle, converting 23 Tennessee turnovers into 29 points and picking up 12 steals from the Lady Vol offense.
"The turnovers really hurt us," said Tennessee forward Shekinna Stricklen. "I think that is really what killed us in this game. Auburn gave it their all and we can see they gave a lot of effort. They were in the passing lanes and they were stealing the ball and getting extra points off the layups. It really hurt us."
As a team, Auburn shot 48 percent from the field, 4-of-13 from behind the arc and 24-of-29 from the free-throw line. Bonner finished the day with a 14-of-16 effort at the charity stripe.
Tennessee was 47 percent from the field, 6-of-20 from three-point range and 10-of-13 from the line. The Lady Vols were led by Shekinna Stricklin with 26 points while Glory Johnson picked up a double-double with 13 points and a game-high 10 boards.
Auburn returns to action Thursday as the Tigers travel to Georgia for a 6 p.m. CT matchup with the Bulldogs (13-7, 3-2 SEC). UGA downed Alabama, 63-61, on Sunday. The Auburn-Georgia game will be televised on CSS.