Alabama rallies in 2nd half to top Auburn

The Auburn ladies drop a heartbreaker to Alabama

Auburn had held Alabama to 1 point over the final 12:01 of the first half Thursday night, forcing the Tide into 18 straight missed shots to end the period and heading into the locker room with a 9-point lead.

Nell Fortner felt like the lead should have been bigger.

“We should have been able to take more advantage of it, and we didn’t,” the Tigers coach said. “I was very concerned about that.”

Fortner was right to be worried, as the Tide shrugged off their frigid end to the first half to rip off a monster run in the second, seizing control and sending the Tigers to a crippling 59-51 loss in front of 3,735 fans at the Auburn Arena.

The loss to Alabama (14-12, 3-10 SEC), coupled with a loss to Mississippi State – which was previously winless in the SEC – almost two weeks ago, makes the final three games into virtual must-wins if the Tigers (14-12, 7-6) want to reach the NCAA Tournament and play in the regional they’re hosting.

“I have no thought on that right now,” Fortner said of her team’s tournament chances. “I’m just worried about trying to get ready for South Carolina (on Sunday).”

Auburn looked to be in control against its rival, which hadn’t won in Auburn since 2002, early in the second half.

The Tide finished the first half shooting 5-of-32 (15.6 percent) from the field, and a Morgan Toles runner put the Tigers up 33-22 with 18:20 to go.

The next 9 minutes were all Alabama, though, as the visitors ripped off a 30-10 run behind 9 points from senior Tierney Jenkins and 8 from senior Varisia Raffington to take a 52-43 lead with 6:45 to go.

Raffington, who was a two-year starter for the Tide but hadn’t started a game all year before Thursday, scored a season-high 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 17 in the second half.

Alabama shot 58.3 percent (14-of-24) as a team after the game, a marked shift from its first-half struggles.

“It was a magic potion we got in the dressing room at halftime,” Tide coach Wendell Hudson said jokingly. “The second half we took it to the basket a little more. If you’re making layups, that can help your percentage.

“In the first half, we were a jump shot shooting team. We did a much better job getting the ball side to side in the second half, getting the ball where we needed to have it.”

The Tigers, meanwhile, struggled creating opportunities for themselves, not getting settled into their offense until deep in the shot clock and having to hoist up bad looks as a result.

Auburn went scoreless for 5:04 during a crucial stretch of the Tide’s run and never got closer than 5 over the final 6 minutes.

“I think (Alabama) came out with a totally different mindset (in the second half),” Fortner said. “They just came out and played a lot tougher in the second half, and we could not match that intensity at all, and we lost the game.”

Jenkins scored 12 points to go along with 13 rebounds for the Tide, and guard Ericka Russell added 12.

Toles led the Tigers with 13 points, Blanche Alverson struggled to a 4-of-15 night from the field and 9 points, and Jassany Williams scored 8 to go along with 12 rebounds.

Auburn finished the game shooting 35.6 percent from the field, including a 29.0-percent mark in the second half.

“It is Auburn-Alabama. That is really the main thing,” said Alverson, one of the Tigers’ six Alabama natives. “That is the game at the end of the year that you want to win the most. It is the pinnacle of all games.”

Auburn finishes up its regular season traveling to South Carolina (Sunday) and Georgia (Thursday) before coming back home to face No. 19 Kentucky (Feb. 27).

The Tigers, in all likelihood, need to win out to get back in good standing for an NCAA Tournament berth.

“If we win our next three games, we are still right in this thing,” Alverson said. “We just have to believe that.”

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