AUBURN - With 14:29 left in Thursday's game, Auburn's women's basketball team was rocking and rolling. Blanche Alverson's jumper had given the Tigers a 45-33 lead over No. 9 Tennessee. The crowd of 3,312 was up and screaming.
Husina Muhammad puts up a shot against Tennessee/Todd Van Emst photo
And then everything changed.
Suddenly, Tennessee was the team playing with confidence and swagger and Auburn was the team searching for answers. The Lady Vols, led by hot-shooting guard Meighan Simmons, went on 16-4 run to tie the game.
Auburn went backup 53-49 with 8:11 left, but Tennessee took the lead for good at 56-53 with 5:08 left. Auburn players, fighting fatigue as time ran short, couldn't answer again. The Lady Vols ran on to a 75-56 victory.
First-year Auburn coach Leslie Williams-Flournoy praised her players' effort, but she acknowledged they running on empty down the stretch.
“They played very, very hard, especially our starters, who were playing a lot of minutes,” Williams-Flournoy said. “We, as coaches, have to do a better job of managing their minutes.
“We just have to do a better job of getting them the rest they need, but we need to get a better bench. ... More recruits is what we need right now. More players."
All five Auburn starters scored in double figures. Alvord and Husina Muhammad scored 15 points apiece. Point guard Najat Ouardad scored 11 points and had eight assists. Tyrese Tanner and Peyton Davis had 10 points apiece.
The loss was particularly disappointing, Alverson said, for Auburn's seniors.
"We're disappointed," Alverson said. “This was the last time we’ll play Tennessee at home. This is the one we wanted to get.”
Simmons carried most of the load for the Lady Vols. She hit 10-of-14 from the field, 4-of-6 from 3-point range and scored 29 points.
Auburn led by as many as 11 points in the first half before settling for a 32-27 lead at the break.
Auburn fell to 13-5 overall and 2-3 in the SEC and faces another monumental challenge Sunday at Kentucky. Tennessee improved to 14-3 and 5-0.