“Ole Miss is a really physical team and they’re really quick,” said freshman guard Morgan Toles. “They’ve got a lot of really good scorers and a lot of 3-point shooters so it’s a matter of us just doing what we did last game and shutting them down defensively.”
Shutting down Ole Miss will be easier said than done. The Rebels are third in the SEC in scoring offense at 73.1 points per game and feature the conference’s leading scorer, All-America candidate Bianca Thomas, who averages 20.6 points a game.
Junior guard Alli Smalley said containing Thomas was one of the team’s focal points in practice.
“What we’ve been doing a lot and what we’ve worked on in practice is switching up defenses a lot,” Smalley said. “Maybe even a box-in-one on (Thomas). I know that might be effective, especially with her scoring so much lately.” Ole Miss is coming off a 68-59 loss to Vanderbilt Sunday. Auburn will look to continue its winning ways on the road. The Tigers defeated Mississippi State (17-10, 8-6 SEC), 50-36, in their last outing Sunday in Starkville.
Head coach Nell Fortner said it was nice to see her team pick up a road win.
“There is no question that was a big win for us,” Fortner said. “We have been struggling as of late, and we are a lot more capable than we have been showing in our last few games.”
The Tigers evened the season series with the Bulldogs after dropping the first contest, 73-58, Jan. 3.
Smalley led the Tigers with a game-high 17 points.
Senior center KeKe Carrier chipped in 12 points and seven rebounds. “Everybody was hitting on all cylinders and we were playing very well as a team,” Smalley said. “When you’ve got the team flowing and playing well together, then it’s kind of easy as an individual to get in the flow of things.” The big story of the game, however, was the defense. Auburn held the Bulldogs to less than half of their season average of 72.8 points per game.
Fortner said her team executed the defensive game plan very well.
“I can’t believe we held them to 36 points because they are a very explosive offense,” Fortner said. “We played most of the first half in man defense, and we did a lot of switching and didn’t give them a lot of air to shoot the ball.”
The Tigers jumped out to an early lead and led by as many as six points before taking a 22-19 lead into halftime.
Mississippi State cut the lead to one early in the second half, but Auburn went on a 14-2 run midway through the half to pull away and seal the victory.
Toles said the win over Mississippi State could serve as a momentum boost for the Tigers heading into the final stretch of the season.
“Now we know we can beat teams like (Mississippi State) and we’ve done it before,” Toles said. “We’re really confident in ourselves and our ability so we’re just looking ahead.”