GREENVILLE, S.C. - Unique Thompson scored 21 points, Daisa Alexander added 19, and the Auburn women's basketball team opened the 2020 SEC Women's Basketball Tournament with a 77-67 win over Vanderbilt Thursday morning.
The Tigers, seeded 13th, will advance to take on fifth-seeded Arkansas at approximately 1:30 p.m. CT Thursday in the tournament's second round.
Auburn used a 17-2 run that spanned more than seven minutes in the fourth quarter to break open what had been a tightly-contested game through the first three periods.
"I thought my young ladies continued to fight for 40 minutes," Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. "We knew it was going to be a tough game. When you play a team three times, it's always going to be a tough game.
"Even in the first half when we weren't shooting the ball extremely well, we continued to fight and pick up our defense in the second half, and scored out of their turnovers."
Thompson finished with 21 points and nine rebounds with 14 of those points coming in the second half. Alexander had some early struggles at the field but began attacking the basket in the second half, getting to the free-throw line and hitting 5-of-6. She also had a game-high nine assists, one shy of a career-high, along with four steals.
Erin Howard added 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range; the five 3-pointers were a career-high. Robyn Benton finished with eight points and four steals.
Auburn's defense was a major factor for the second straight game, forcing 25 turnovers and converting those into a season-high 31 points. As a team, Auburn shot exactly 50 percent (28-of-56) from the field and hit 8-of-18 3-pointers (44.4%). Vandy was slightly better from the field at 52.8 percent but hit just two 3-pointers. Vandy out-rebounded Auburn 29-24.
The Tigers led by a bucket at the end of the first quarter, 18-16. The second quarter was a period of runs for both teams - Vandy went on an 8-0 run to open the quarter, then Auburn countered with a 7-0 run of its own to move back ahead by one at 25-24 with 5:50 to play. Another run by the Commodores, this one a 9-0 stretch, put Vandy back ahead 35-27 with 2:10 to play, but the Tigers ended the half on a 7-0 skein, punctuated by a buzzer-beating 3 from Howard to cut it to 35-34 at the break.
After the teams traded the lead twice to start the third quarter, another 3-pointer from Howard put Auburn head 42-39 at the 6:22 mark. The Tigers would never trail again. An 8-1 run over a little more than two minutes saw Auburn constantly attacking the basket, drawing fouls, and getting free-throw opportunities, pushing the advantage to as many as eight points late in the third.
Vandy would get as close as one, trailing 60-59 with 8:01 to play in the fourth, but Auburn would score the next 14 points to put the game out of reach. Auburn shot 69.2 percent (9-13) from the floor in the fourth quarter.
Koi Love led Vandy with 26 points while Mariella Fasoula and Chelsie Hall had 12 apiece.
It was Auburn's second win in three tries against Vanderbilt this season and the second win in six meetings with the Commodores at the SEC Tournament. The Tigers will be facing Arkansas for just the third time in an SEC Tournament; the last meeting was a 73-51 Auburn win in 2008.