AUBURN - Nell Fortner's last game against Alabama was one to remember. Her players made sure of it.
Blanche Alverson celebrates with Auburn coach Nell Fortner/Todd Van Emst photo
Two days after Fortner resigned as Auburn women's basketball head coach, effective at the end of the season, the Tigers overwhelmed Alabama 81-40 Thursday as a crowd of 2,809 roared its approval at Auburn Arena.
The Tigers dominated inside and outside, on offense and on defense. Alabama wilted early under the pressure of Auburn's half-court trap and the game got out of hand in a hurry.
"You know when you’re an Auburn coach, playing Alabama is a big game," Fortner said. "That one felt good. I thought we just played for 40 minutes, and it was good to do that. If this team starts kind of riding that wave a little bit, let’s see what we can do. It was a good night. We shot the ball, and the defense was good. It was nice to see that happen for these players.”
Barring a meeting in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Fortner will finish her Auburn career with a 13-3 record against Alabama.
On Tuesday, Auburn's players got the news in an emotional meeting that Fortner had decided to step down. They vowed then to do all they could to write a happy ending to her time at Auburn.
Junior guard Blanche Anderson, who scored 15 points on five 3-pointers and had four assists, said there was a different feel when the Tigers took the court.
"Auburn always looks forward to playing Alabama, and then with the events this week, we really wanted to go out and win this one for Coach Fortner," Alverson said. "She’s so passionate about Auburn, and we just wanted to win it for her. I’d say we did a pretty good job of that today.”
Sophomore forward Tyrese Tanner scored 23 points, 18 in the first half. Camille Glymph scored 15 off the bench, 10 in the second half. Point guard Najat Ouardad scored 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and had five assists.
“They are big rivals, so there was a lot of trash talking from the beginning, about whether we are really tough or not," Tanner said. "Well, you see who won."
The Tigers, disrupting Alabama's offense and turning turnovers into easy baskets, raced away to a 33-14 lead with 6:32 left in the first half. Alabama its only move of the game, going on 9-2 run to cut the gap to 35-23. But the Tigers scored closed the half on a 10-0 run and scored the seven points of the second half to go up 52-23 and were never threatened.
Auburn forced 19 turnovers in the first half and 29 for the game.
Fortner took her starters out with 11:26 left. Other than brief appearances by Ouardad, the starters stayed there for the remainder of the game.
Auburn improved to 12-16 on the season and 4-11 in the SEC going into Sunday's regular-season finale against Ole Miss at Auburn Arena. Alabama fell to 12-17 and 2-13.
Saturday night's blowout rekindled Auburn's hope of making a run in next week's SEC Tournament in Nashville.
"We’re looking forward to our last home game and our last regular-season game, and then we want to make a spark in the conference tournament," Alverson said. "We really feel like this tournament is up for grabs. Anyone can beat anyone on any given day, so we feel like we can really come in and mess some things up.”