By Scott Scroggins
AUBURN, Ala. - After a sluggish first half, Auburn opened the second half on a 10-2 run and closed out non-conference play at 9-3 with a 70-44 victory over Xavier (La.) at Auburn Arena Thursday night.
Tigers' defense stingy as alwaysSome things never change, and for Auburn this season, that has been forcing 20 turnovers. The Tigers have forced at least 20 turnovers in all 12 games, and in its win over Xavier (La.), Auburn forced the Gold Nuggets into 30 turnovers, the third game this season in which the Tigers have forced at least 30 turnovers, including the last two. Auburn is fourth nationally and first among major conference teams forcing 25.3 turnovers per game.
The game marked the seventh time Auburn has held an opponent to 50 or fewer points this season, including the last three games. For the season, Auburn is fifth nationally allowing 51.2 points per game. The Tigers recorded 17 steals on the night and are registering 15.3 steals per game, which is fourth in the country.
The Tigers' defensive effort was led by Janiah McKay, who led Auburn and tied a career-high with six steals. The junior point guard leads the SEC and is tied for 16th nationally with 3.33 steals per game this season.
"We played much better defense in the second half," Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. "You can definitely tell that we've been off since the 19th. It was a little sluggish there to get started. I thought, once we finally got going... the back line started doing a little bit better. Emari (Jones) had some transition points, got us going, and Jaz (Jones) just works (really hard) at the top of the press."
Bench leads the wayAuburn got a season-high 37 bench points in the win, including 13 from Daisa Alexander and 12 from Abigayle Jackson. Jackson, who added four rebounds and two blocks, came into the night having scored just six points in 10 games this season while averaging just over six minutes a game in her freshman campaign.
"That's definitely a career high, and she went 5-of-7," Williams-Flournoy said of Jackson. "She did a really good job down there. Abi has been working really hard. She comes before practice. She stays after practice. She's understanding what we need from her. She did a good job today.
"She came in as a stretch four, and I actually like her at the five. I really like her there. She can step out. She can shoot it. It gives us a different option there at the five."
Auburn's longest winning streak since 2012-13 seasonWith the win, Auburn pushes its winning streak to six games, which is the longest for the Tigers since winning nine straight during the 2012-13 season. Auburn has won all six games during the streak by double digits and is outscoring its opponents by 21.0 points per game over the stretch. It is the second-longest winning streak in Williams-Flournoy's six seasons at Auburn.
Auburn will try to extend its winning streak to seven Sunday when it welcomes Florida to Auburn Arena for the SEC opener for both squads. The contest is set to tip at 3 pm and will be aired on ESPN2.