On Wednesday night, Auburn women’s basketball fell behind big early, making a comeback attempt fall short. The 57-51 loss was its first of the season.
Last season, Auburn traveled to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech at home. It walked away with a 59-51 win; however, this season the unbeaten Yellow Jackets were able to get revenge on the road.
The head coach of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Nell Fortner, previously coached at Auburn for eight seasons (2004-2012), leading Auburn to an SEC Regular-Season Championship in 2009. She began coaching for Georgia Tech in 2019, and this is her fourth season with the Yellow Jackets. They went 21-11 last season, and their season was ended by Kansas in the NCAA Tournament.
Head Coach Johnnie Harris’s starters included three freshmen: Kaitlyn Duhon, Sydney Shaw, and Kharyssa Richardson with redshirt senior Honesty Scott-Grayson and junior Aicha Coulibaly. This was a young team's first true test of the season, and and after falling behind by 15 late in the second quarter, Auburn kept chipping away, but the effort ultimately fell short.
Auburn struggled to find its stroke, shooting 26.3%. Auburn's leading scorer from last season and this season, Coulibaly and Scott-Grayson, led with 11 points each followed by freshman Mya Pratcher and Duhon with six a piece. The Tigers ended with 32 points in the paint and 14 off turnovers, but it wasn't enough to fix the poor shooting performance.
“We try to force the action and we try to attack, but they were kind of sagging off and making us shoot over them," Harris said. "So we were shooting it a little bit too fast. We were trying to tell them they need to flip the floor, and once you flip the floor and get the defense [to] move, then you attack. That’ll be a learning opportunity as well.”
The Tigers outrebounded the Yellow Jackets, 51-39, with 29 offensive rebounds and 22 defensive compared to Georgia Tech's 11 and 28. Auburn turned that domination on the boards into points, outscoring Georgia Tech in the paint, 32-26.
But a slow start haunted the Tigers in the first quarter with only five points: Scott-Grayson with three and Coulibaly with two. The Tigers ended the quarter down by 12, a deficit that put Auburn in a difficult spot to come back from.
“We came out passive, we didn’t come out aggressive,” Harris said. “We talked about coming out being aggressive, imposing our will. We knew they were gonna sag off, but you know their size – we didn’t have that in practice to go against, and I think it kind of shell shocked. We had some three really young players out there and I thought they looked at that and maybe got a little nervous.”
In the second quarter, the Tigers picked up the pace, ending the quarter by holding Georgia Tech without a bucket from the field in the final three minutes. Scott-Grayson led the team scoring with five points while Coulibaly, Pratcher, and junior Precious Johnson ended the half with four a piece. The Tigers went on a 7-0 run to end the half, bringing the score to 32-25.
“We made some early shots, kind of went away from our game plan a little bit and then once I got a group in there that was playing hard on the defensive end," Harris said. "I thought it started on the defensive end, coming back once I got those players in there and doing what we do, it was a lot better for us.”
Coulibaly started the third quarter off hot with an and-one under the basket to set the Tigers up for success. Scott-Grayson and Duhon each followed with a breakaway layup putting the Tigers just one possession away from Georgia Tech, forcing a visitor timeout. After a back-and-forth battle, Auburn ended the quarter down by three.
In the beginning of the fourth quarter, Pratcher started with a rebound and a put-back to put the Tigers just one point away from tieing the score. Three minutes in, Coulibaly took the lead from the free throw line after being fouled in the paint. Georgia Tech quickly followed with a layup and a two-point jumper to steal the lead back. After a two-point jumper from Jakayla Johnson and a 3-pointer from Shaw, the Tigers were down by five with one minute remaining. In the end, the shots were not falling for the home team, allowing Georgia Tech to go home with a win.
“I feel like they will take this and grow from it," Harris said. "We have a lot of good film that we can take and show them and use as a way to help these young kids grow up. We beat them in just about every category... I thought we caught up, we just can’t wait that long to make a move. We got to come out imposing our will, especially at home and that’s the biggest thing we gotta get them to understand.”
At 2-1, the Tigers are back in Neville Arena once again for their next action to take on Alabama State on Sunday, Nov. 20th. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. CST.
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Alexa Gardner is a sophomore at Auburn, majoring in exercise science. From Birmingham, Ala., she started with The Plainsman in fall 2022.