Well, that was less than pleasant. Immediate reaction:
--There's a reason someone out there coined the term "survive and advance." It's for games like this, where you can't really say anything happy or pleasant about it, so you say "survive and advance" like a Zen koan and you feel better. And it works, if you haven't noticed. Survive and advance. Survive and advance, baby.
--OK, so there are or two pleasant things to say, starting with the fact that DeWanna Bonner is the best player in the his league, and it's not close. 32 points on 12-of-19, 13 boards, 3 blocks, 2 assists, 2 turnovers despite handling the ball a freaking ton, and of course the two critical, game-icing free throws after playing 39 of 40 possible minutes. If she's not completely on her game today, Auburn loses.
--More Bonner: According to Tate, she became Auburn's all-time leading scorer during the second half. That would be an impressive accomplishment anywhere. At the school that's produced some of the finest women's basketball players in the history of the sport--Vickie Orr, C.J. Jones, Ruthie Bolton--that's nothing short of phenomenal. Ms. Bonner, the JCCW salutes you. You amaze us.
--Boddie was Boddie: 10 assists to 3 TOs, 3 steals, 7 boards, 15 points. It wasn't the most efficient day for her offensively--she took 15 shots to get to those 15 points and missed the front end of a late one-and-one that could have made the end-game a lot less stressful--but on a day when no one else was willing to help Bonner at all, her series of step-back J's were most, most welcome.
--OK, that's where the pleasant things end. Here's how the day went for your other three starters:
1. Alli Smalley hit her first three shots from the field for 8 points in the game's first 6:30 ... and missed her next seven in a row, all from deep, to finish 3-of-10 for 10 points. Auburn desperately needs 3-point shooting to keep things open inside for Bonner and Boddie's drives, and 2-of-9 from out there ain't cutting it. At least she added 3 assists and 3 steals with just 1 turnover, so it wasn't a total waste, unlike the performance of ... well, I'll get to that in a moment.
2. Trevesha Jackson hit 2-of-4 for 4 points, and only turned the ball over once in 26 minutes ... so I guess her day also could have been worse. But she also picked up Auburn's first two fouls and had to sit nearly the entire first half in a game where finding the stars some minutes on the bench was crucial. Recording only 3 boards, 1 assist, and 1 steal in those 26 minutes isn't especially impressive, either ... which is probably why she finished the game on the bench.
3. Goodness gracious Sherell Hobbs, I can't even remember a performance this bad from a statistical standpoint. How on earth can a guard play 39 minutes and record zero assists and zero steals? Is that even possible? And that's on top of a 1-of-9 shooting performance, good for 5 points. All 27 Auburn field goals came with Hobbs on the court, and she either assisted on or scored one of them. Unbelievable.
In short: Auburn will not advance another round with this level of contribution from these players. It won't happen.
--Do I really have to mention the bench? OK, Reneisha Hobbs hit her one shot and contributed an assist without a turnover in her eight minutes (hey, that's one more assist than her sister got in 39!). Other than that: Chantel Hilliard somehow committed 4 fouls in 5 minutes of play; KeKe Carrier committed 2 fouls and 2 turnovers and went 1-of-4 from the line in her 8 minutes (she did grab 4 boards, at least); Morgan Jennings got off the bench for all of 2 minutes andm anaged to commit a turnover in both of them.
The result: 39 minutes for Bonner and Hobbs, 38 for Boddie, 35 for Smalley. In the opening game of a tournament that will require them to play (hopefully) twice more in the next two days. This is not good.
--OK, back to the few positives we have: because Bonner's not a traditional post player, big true centers can give Auburn trouble. The Rebels' Shawn Goff is one of those true centers, which is why she went off for 25 points an 10-of-15 shooting and why Auburn struggled with the Rebels during the regular season (Auburn won by almost the exact same score, 72-65). There aren't too many of those around. Auburn's defense won't always have this tough a time.
--If you were listening/watching, you know Fortner yanked Bonner with like 5:30 to play and Auburn up 12 or 13 or so to try and give her an extra blow before the under-4 TV timeout. Auburn promptly let the lead slip to single digits and Bonner returned immediately. It's a little troubling, frankly. Bonner leaving should be a sign to everyone else that now is when they have to push to make up for her absence, and instead--according to the radio guys--it seemed to be taken as a signal the game was over. I suspect Fortner let them in on that little fact in the postgame locker room.
--Speaking of Fortner, once again her charges came out after halftime flying--they scored the first 7 points and turned what had been a pretty competitive first half into the pseudo-comfortable win it was until the Rebels' late charge. Clearly, she knows what buttons to push at the break.
--In the end, I guess I suppose I shouldn't gripe so much about a game in which Auburn led wire-to-wire and never allowed a second-haklf possession on which Ole Miss could have taken the lead. Survive and advance.