It’s a new season for Auburn women’s basketball.
The Tigers know it won’t be a long one.
But they know it can be a loud one — and that they have the firepower to make plenty of noise.
With a bang, Auburn has advanced to the second round of the SEC Tournament, set to play fifth-seeded Arkansas today at around 1:30 p.m. on SEC Network.
Auburn beat Vanderbilt 77-67 on Wednesday to open the tournament in Greenville, S.C. — and bounce back from a tough end to a tough regular season earlier this week. Auburn enters as the 13th seed, but convinced it can play much better than the record shows.
The postseason is a new opportunity, the players have been telling themselves between games in Greenville, and as more teams coast into town for the tournament today.
Now they’re just bent on making the most of it.
“Our motto was, ‘It’s a new season,’” Auburn forward Unique Thompson said postgame on the SEC Network after the win over Vanderbilt. “We knew that we didn’t have the season that we wanted to. It was a growing year for us. But we can’t hang our heads on that.
“We knew that Vanderbilt was a tough team. They had high energy. So coming into the game we knew we just wanted to play the full four quarters with high energy, match their intensity, and even better excel it.”
Auburn led by as many as 16 points, despite being the lower-seeded team against 12th-placed Vanderbilt. Thompson led Auburn with 21 points and neared a double-double with nine rebounds.
Auburn’s lone senior, Daisa Alexander scored 19 — as Auburn’s bounced back from a buzzer-beater loss to Tennessee in the home finale last Sunday, the latest in more than a handful of heartbreaks for Auburn this season.
“We played for Daisa,” Thompson said, on set with SEC Network analysts. “We didn’t get it done on her Senior Night, so we had to do it today.”
All tournament games are being broadcast on SEC Network until the tournament semifinals. Today’s tipoff time is approximate because the game is scheduled to 25 minutes after the 11 a.m. game between Georgia and Alabama.
Thompson, who topped DeWanna Bonner’s double-double record at Auburn before the end of the regular season, was named a first-team All-SEC player going into the tournament.
“She did everything for us,” Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said of Thompson in the Vanderbilt game. “After the Tennessee game, I kind of got onto her a little bit, you know? So she came back and she recovered. She scored for us. She rebounded for us.
“She actually played a little bit of defense, too,” she laughed.
She was joking over how hard Williams-Flournoy is on her team when it comes to defense, and it’s for good reason: Williams-Flournoy invests in a difficult-to-master press defense that can be an equalizer in tournament settings like the one Auburn finds itself in in Greenville.
Auburn turned Vanderbilt over 25 times in the win. Vanderbilt led 35-34 at the half, but Thompson said Auburn settled into that press defense when it started making shots — its offense and defense complementing one another.
Erin Howard scored 15 points, hitting 5-of-7 from 3-point range. Auburn is playing without freshman sharpshooter Lauren Hansen, the team’s leading 3-point maker, who is out with a concussion. Howard’s shooting Wednesday helped the Tigers outside without her.
Auburn’s win moved the Tigers to 11-17 on the season. Arkansas is 22-7, ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press Top 25. Arkansas beat Auburn 86-70 back on Jan. 5, but plenty of time has passed since then.
And if you ask Auburn, it’s a completely new season.