Auburn vs. Vanderbilt women's basketball

Auburn's Erin Howard drives to the basket during the team's game against Vanderbilt on Sunday in Auburn Arena.

Auburn has found its rhythm again.

And with some confident shooting, some re-energized defense and a little bit of clutch play, the Tigers are back on the winning side.

The Auburn women’s basketball team beat Vanderbilt 70-62 on Sunday in Auburn Arena, pulling ahead big in the third quarter then holding on down the stretch to revenge a loss to the same team earlier in SEC play and prove it’s a different team in a new month now in February.

Lauren Hanson and Daisa Alexander both scored 18 points for Auburn. Unique Thompson reeled in a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

And Auburn got ahead, stayed ahead and finished strong before celebrating a second SEC win with the home fans.

“What I told them in the locker room was that I could definitely see the maturity of this team,” Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said.

Auburn surged ahead after holding a slim halftime lead to go up by as many as 13 in the third quarter. In the fourth, Vanderbilt cut Auburn’s lead down to three points with just less than two minutes to play, but Auburn put the clamps down on defense, Hanson hit three clutch free throws with 44 seconds left, and the Tigers survived.

“There were a lot of times where a little adversity hit — we didn’t make shots, we were turning the ball over — but we have matured and we didn’t let that affect our gameplan,” Williams-Flournoy said. “We continued to play hard. We continued to get after them, so I was very proud of the fact that they’re starting to grow up.”

Auburn moved to 8-12 on the season and 2-7 in SEC play. Two more losses fell on the ledger last week, but on the court, Auburn’s played four straight solid games after struggling in five straight SEC losses to open league play. Auburn earned its first SEC win over Ole Miss on Jan. 23 and then played close with a puncher’s chance at No. 13 Kentucky and at No. 9 Mississippi State this past week before getting this win over Vanderbilt.

Hansen’s three free throws proved critical. Auburn led by three at 63-60 with less than a minute left when the offense bogged down and Williams-Flournoy was forced to call a timeout with two seconds left on the shot clock. On the inbounds play, Auburn tried to go to Alexander but settled to pass to Hansen in the near corner, and Vanderbilt bailed out Auburn by fouling Hansen behind the line.

The freshman calmly and coolly sank all three of her free throws to make it 66-60 with 44 seconds to go.

“It really is encouraging, and it’s good to know that they’re actually gaining their confidence,” the junior Thompson said of Hansen and her other freshman teammates. “Lauren is a really hard worker and she also gets down on herself sometimes. So it’s just good to know that she had the confidence that she knew she was going to knock them down.

“And we also encouraged her as well and I was very proud of my teammates for doing that too.”

Auburn has a week off before going on the road to travel rival Alabama next Sunday in Tuscaloosa.

Sunday, Auburn led 33-28 at the break, led by Alexander’s 11 first-half points. She scored back-to-back buckets late in the first quarter to give Auburn a 16-15 lead going into the second, after the Tigers trailed 10-2 early. In the second, Alexander hit a 3-pointer to break a 24-24 tie, then after Vanderbilt scored, Erin Howard scored a lay-in after a Unique Thompson bucket inside to give Auburn its largest lead of the first half at 31-26. Robyn Benton scored with 12 seconds left in the half to preserve that five-point lead for Auburn going into the locker room.

Auburn hit three of its eight 3-pointers in the first half while closing out on the perimeter on the other side to limit Vanderbilt to 1-of-6 shooting from range in that first half. The Tigers also forced 11 Vanderbilt turnovers.

In the third quarter, that offense caught up with the defense. Auburn scored 20 in the third quarter alone. Alexander converted an and-1 opportunity to put the Tigers up 46-36 with 4:35 left in the frame. Then Hansen hit two free throws to put Auburn up 49-36 to cap what was a 10-2 run for Auburn.

Vanderbilt chipped at the lead, but it was too much for the visitors to overcome.

“I think we put three great quarters together,” Williams-Flournoy said. “I thought we held on good for the first quarter — didn’t let it get too out of control. But the second, third and fourth, I thought we put three great quarters together.

“I think today was probably the closest that we have to putting a whole, full game together.”

Auburn wore pink uniforms Sunday for its annual Pink Game raising awareness for breast cancer detection options and supporting cancer survivors.

In the teams’ first game this season, Auburn lost to Vanderbilt 77-55 in Nashville — a far cry from Auburn’s win Sunday and another highlight to how Auburn’s play has changed over the last two weeks.

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