For the second day in a row in Memorial Gymnasium, a Vanderbilt basketball team squandered a double digit second-half lead and lost the game in the final seconds as the women’s team fell 72-70 in a heartbreaker to the Auburn Tigers.
The Commodores, who again only had seven players available, were leading for almost the entire game but they turned the ball over 21 times which allowed the Tigers to steal a win in the end.
“I’m really proud of this group for how we battled and for how we started the ball game,” said White. “But we have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball.”
Led by the hot shooting of Cierra Walker, who finished with 25 points, the Commodores jumped out to a 20-10 first quarter lead and held Auburn to just 18.8% shooting from the floor.
During the last five minutes of the first half, Auburn began to figure out the Commodore zone and Unique Thompson, who finished the half with twelve points, scored multiple baskets in the post.
Fortunately for the Commodores however, Walker was on fire from long distance, making four three-pointers in the quarter, and she led Vanderbilt to a 42-29 halftime lead.
The Commodores ended the half shooting 62.5% from the field and 70% from deep. Walker finished the half with 19 points and six three point makes, tying her career-high of six three pointers in a game.
“We looked for what we wanted and I think that we got what we wanted,” said Walker. “I was just in the right places at the right time and my teammates did a great job of finding me.”
In the second half, Walker picked up right where she left off, drilling a three less than two minutes into the half to give her a new personal best of seven made three-pointers. However, Walker would only take two more shots the entire second half as the Tiger defense, which switched from zone to man-to-man, keyed into her.
“We spent a lot of time really working on how to attack their zone because Auburn is not a team that plays a lot of man to man,” said White. “We just had a hard time with it and a hard time getting open.”
Walker’s three along with baskets by LeaLea Carter and Maria Fasoula extended the Commodore lead to 20 and forced the Tigers to call a timeout.
Auburn came out of that timeout fired up and rattled off a 19-4 run to end the quarter thanks to several Commodore turnovers and a Tiger three at the buzzer. The Commodore lead was down to 53-47 heading into the final ten minutes of play and a feeling of déjà vu began to creep into the minds of Vanderbilt fans who watched the men’s game the night before.
“They are a good team so we were expecting them to come out and to have a little spunk to them in the third quarter,” said Walker.
Vanderbilt made some big offensive plays in the beginning of the fourth quarter, notably Walker’s eighth three-pointer and a successful Kaleigh Clemons-Green three-point play. However, they could not get consecutive defensive stops and they led by just five with five minutes remaining.
With less than two minutes left in the game, the game was tied at 67. On the next possession, Autumn Newby, who was in foul trouble for a large chunk of the game, got fouled and made one of two free throws.
The Tigers responded with a jumper and Vanderbilt turned the ball over on their next possession. Fasoula then came up with a huge block to get the Commodores the ball back and White called a timeout with 30 seconds remaining.
White drew up a brilliant inbounds play and Newby converted the easy lay-up to push the Commodores up by one with 16. 8 seconds remaining. However, Auburn’s Robyn Benton came down the court and made a jumper while being fouled by Walker. She made the ensuing free throw to put the Tigers up two with 8.6 seconds remaining.
The Commodores had a chance to tie it at the end but Newby missed the baseline jumper at the buzzer.
Vanderbilt is now 5-13 overall and 0-5 in SEC play. They play again on Thursday January 24 against Ole Miss in Memorial Gym.