Smalley’s 24 not enough in Tigers loss

Smalley was honored as the only Senior on the Lady Tigers squad, unfortunatly here 24 were not enough to overcome #20 Kentucky

Auburn’s Senior Day – a de facto Alli Smalley Day, as she was the only Tigers senior to play Sunday – went just about as well as Smalley could have hoped.

She ended the first half hitting nothing but net from 35 feet at the buzzer, sending Auburn into the half up 3 on No. 20 Kentucky, she finished a season-high 24 points and added four more 3-pointers to set her program-record career number at 218.

Only one notable thing turned the day sour: The Tigers couldn’t handle the Wildcats’ frantic defensive pressure in the second half and fell, 76-62, in front of 3,274 fans in the regular-season finale at Auburn Arena.

“I would much rather have the win than the points,” Smalley said. “But we fought hard. Kentucky’s just a tough team.”

Auburn (15-14, 8-8 SEC), which turned the ball over 28 times in a 31-point loss at Kentucky (22-7, 11-5) on Feb. 3, overcame 16 first-half turnovers Sunday with 48.1 percent shooting.

The Wildcats started ratcheting up the defensive pressure, forcing the Tigers into turnovers and bad shots, and went on a 10-0 run to take a 50-43 lead on a Crystal Riley layup with 10:34 to go.

Auburn closed back to within 57-52 on a Smalley 3-pointer at the 6:47 mark, but Kentucky again turned the tide with tireless defending, ripping off a 12-3 run that ended in a 3-point play by Maegan Conwright that left the Tigers behind 69-55 with 3:26 to go.

Tigers coach Nell Fortner said she felt most of her team’s turnovers in the first half were self-inflicted.

The second half, it was all Kentucky.

“They just swarm. They’re all over the place,” Fortner said. “They tend to bring an extra defender over to trap the ball down the floor. It’s usually a post defender, and you can’t see.

“It just drives you crazy.”

Victoria Dunlap was the main beneficiary of the Wildcats’ defense, getting on the other end of a number of transition layups and finishing with a team-high 19 points and seven rebounds.

Kentucky also managed to spread the wealth, putting A’dia Mathies (13 points), Keyla Snowden (11) and Conwright (10) in double figures.

Morgan Jennings – starting her second straight game for the injured Morgan Toles – gave the Tigers a spark at the point, scoring 16, Chantel Hilliard scored 10, and Blanche Alverson had 10 points and eight rebounds to complement Smalley, as only five Tigers scored in the game.

“It was a special game, being able to get honored,” Smalley said. “I’ve just really loved playing with my teammates all these years. That’s what made it so special.”

Auburn earned the No. 6 seed in the SEC Tournament with the loss and will take on No. 11 seed Mississippi State (12-16, 4-12) in the first round Thursday at 9 p.m. at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.

The Tigers split two meetings with the Bulldogs this season, a 45-41 win on the road and a 57-45 loss at home that served as Mississippi State’s first SEC win of the year.

Fortner hopes Smalley’s Auburn career can end later, rather than sooner.

“She’s just a great kid,” Fortner said. “I can’t even begin to explain what a fantastic person she is.

“These players fought hard for her (Sunday). I think everybody was giving everything they had to get her that win.” | 737-2568

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