No. 7 Auburn Captures First SEC Regular-Season Title In 20 Years
March 1, 2009
AUBURN - The No. 7 Auburn women's basketball team (27-2, 13-2 SEC) claimed its first SEC title in 20 years as the Tigers rolled over the Arkansas Razorbacks (17-12, 6-8 SEC), 94-57, on a snowy Sunday afternoon in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.
National Player-of-the-Year candidate DeWanna Bonner led the Tigers with 25 points. Fellow seniors Sherell Hobbs and Whitney Boddie both scored in double-digits with 18 and 10, respectively, while true freshman Chantel Hilliard added 11.
Bonner, who led the Tiger with four first-half boards, broke the 1,000-rebound barrier at the 14:03 mark of the first half. The Fairfield, Ala., native became just the fourth Auburn player ever to hit the mark. She also moved up the career scoring list, passing Vickie Orr for second all-time with 2,052 points; she is now 16 points away from Becky Jackson's record of 2,068.
"I'm so happy right now," said Bonner. "I'm so proud of our team and our coaches. We worked so hard for it and I'm just so glad with the way we came out tonight and played."
The regular-season title is Auburn's first since the 1989 season and gives the Tigers the No. 1 overall seed in next week's SEC Tournament in North Little Rock, Ark. The conference championship is the fifth all-time for Auburn, including titles in 1981, 1987, 1988 and 1989.
Playing on senior night, Auburn's four seniors stepped up to the challenge of winning the program's first SEC title in 20 years. The class of Bonner, Hobbs, Boddie and Trevesha Jackson combined for 60 of Auburn's 94 points, as well as 24 of 42 rebounds and 12 of 18 assists.
Jackson led the Tigers with a game-high 11 rebounds, her second-highest rebounding total of the season.
The Tigers won the tip and never looked back, building a 10-point lead just four minutes into the first half after an early rash of Arkansas turnovers. The Tigers continued to capitalize on the turnovers, converting 11 into 16 points en route to Auburn's third-highest first-half point total of the season and the most in any SEC game this season.
Auburn took a 54-32 lead into the locker room with no team turnovers and a 16-point first-half effort from Hobbs.
"Even though we were up by 20, we knew that the game was not over because Arkansas is so great at the three-point line," said Auburn head coach Nell Fortner. "The worst thing we could have done was think that it was over, act like it was over and play like it was over when it really isn't. We didn't want that to happen."
The Auburn defense continued to trouble the Razorbacks, forcing 10 more turnovers for another 11 points as the second half progressed. The Tigers watched their lead grow all the way to the buzzer.
"Needless to say, I am just thrilled for this team and this program to win an SEC Championship," said Fortner. "It is absolutely what our goal has been since we took this job. I am just really proud of the team and the effort today. I thought we did an outstanding job."
Auburn finished the day hitting 35-of-68 from the field, 1-of-4 from three-point land and 23-of-33 from the stripe.
"It was a rough day right from the beginning," said Arkansas head coach Tom Collen. "I think Auburn had 11 assists and zero turnovers in the first half, so they played near perfection. Hats off to them. They're the SEC Champs. They deserve to be."
Not only did Auburn play a nearly error-free game with its lowest turnover total of the season with six and a 52.5 percent shooting effort, but it held the Razorback to 39.4 percent from the field, forcing 21 total turnovers.
"I just think we ran into a buzz saw," said Collen. "But, one positive I think our team needs to hear about is four years ago, when we played Auburn, this team was awful. Now, they've got a packed house and they've got a SEC Championship. I'm glad our kids are here to witness this so they understand what it takes and that they can't get there if they don't go back and work."
Arkansas was 22-of-56 from the field, led by forward Whitney Jones with 23 points and 10 rebounds. The Razorbacks finished the game 3-of-17 from behind the arc and 10-of-15 from the line.
Arkansas' freshman guard Ceira Ricketts, who put up the first ever triple-double against Auburn in Fayetteville, Ark., on Jan. 18, finished the game with only two points, three rebounds, zero assists and four turnovers.
The Tigers return to action at 12 p.m., Friday in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament in North Little Rock, Ark. Auburn will take on the winner of the Ole Miss-Arkansas game at the Alltel Arena. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports South, Fox Sports Southwest and Sun Sports.
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