PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Auburn senior DeWanna Bonner had a game-high 26 points and a stifling Tiger defense held the Patriot League’s top offense to a season low as the Tigers defeated Lehigh, 85-49, in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Saturday. The No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional, the Tigers will face No. 7 seed and host Rutgers on Monday at 7 p.m. ET.
The 36-point win was the largest margin of victory for Auburn in 46 games all-time in the NCAA Tournament and its first victory in the tournament since 2004.
“I am very pleased with the way we played today,” said head coach Nell Fortner. “I think that was a great effort for our first NCAA tournament win for these players and this staff and I thought we came out and played with great intensity and was really pleased with the effort. I thought we got great experience for the bench on the floor in the second half and I was really pleased with the play of everyone.”
Auburn improved to 30-3, while Lehigh finished the season at 26-7. The 30 wins are the fourth most in school history and the most in 20 years.
The Tigers jumped broke a 4-4 tie three minutes into the game, going on a 21-3 run over the next 4:51 to grab a comfortable lead which they never relinquished.
Auburn, which led 45-30 at the break, saw the Mountain Hawks get within 13 points at 19:24 left in the second half before outscoring the No. 15 seed 40-19 the remainder of the game.
The Tigers held Lehigh scoreless over the last 9:11 of the game, finishing on a 19-0 run, while holding the Mountain Hawks to 16.7 percent shooting over the final 20 minutes.
“Our bench played to about six or eight minutes of the second half and they (Lehigh) didn’t score,” said Fortner. “That is a tremendous compliment to our bench. These kids go every day against these starters and the majority of the time they play defense so their defense should be good. They played tremendous today and we needed to see that today in this tournament.”
Bonner also praised the play of Auburn’s bench, adding how important their play is in the tournament, as well as in the future of the program.
“That is really important for the future and for right now,” said Bonner. “People may say we don’t have the bench but they can flat-out play and I think today they showed that and they did a good job of coming out making good defensive stops and doing what we do.”
Bonner was dominating, scoring her 26 points in 30 minutes of play, hitting 8-of-14 shots, including a perfect 10-for-10 from the charity stripe.
Three other Tigers finished in double figures. Trevesha Jackson had 11 points, while KeKe Carrier and Chantel Hilliard came off the bench to add 11 and 10 points, respectively. Carrier tallied her 11 points along with seven rebounds in only eight minutes of play.
Auburn, which had a decisive size advantage, outscored Lehigh, 42-18, in the paint.
“I thought Auburn played an outstanding game,” said Lehigh coach Sue Troyan. “They probably really took their toll in the last ten minutes because we tried to hang with them in the first thirty minutes. Their athleticism and their talent just took over in the last ten minutes of the game.”
Senior point guard Whitney Boddie became Auburn’s career assist leader at the 12:31 mark of the first half, giving her 593, passing Renae Halbrooks (1978-82). She finished the game with a game-high nine assists.
The shortest player on Auburn’s roster, Boddie had a game-high three blocked shots.
For the game the Tigers shot 53 percent and out-rebounded the Mountain Hawks, 46-34.
Defensively, Auburn forced Lehigh into 19 turnovers and held the Patriot League’s leading three-point shooting team to just 18 percent from long range, going 4-for-22 against the Tigers’ man-to-man defense. The Mountain Hawks shot 30 percent for the game.
Monday’s game will be televised by ESPN2 with Bob Wischusen and Rebecca Lobo calling the action. Tiger fans can also listen to the game live on WMXA 96.7 FM with play-by-play from Andy Burcham and color commentary from Arnika Edwards. Audio Webcasts will also be available at www.AuburnTigers.com.