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February 17, 2013

Eight is enough, as Blanche Alverson busts Auburn’s slump in 70-53 beating of Alabama

Alabama Auburn BasketballAUBURN, Ala. – The smiles said it all. There haven’t been many of those in the general vicinities of head coach Terri Williams-Flourney’s face, or those of forwards Blanche Alverson or Peyton Davis.

An eight-game losing skid is all but forgotten after Auburn throttled in-state rival Alabama 70-53 Saturday, the triumph carried by one of the finest afternoons in Alverson’s lengthy basketball career.

“We are very happy to get a win,” Williams-Flourney said, exasperated for much of the past month. “That’s my opening statement.”

It was a “Pink Zone” at Auburn Arena, with many of the 3,146 fans in attendance wearing the proper color to help promote breast cancer awareness, an effort stimulated by ESPN2 airing coverage and Davis’ own personal backstory.

But first, a few words on Alverson, who was ready to do whatever it took to win from tipoff. This could potentially be the senior’s final tangle with Alabama – unless the pair of SEC bottom-dwellers meet up in the SEC Tournament March 6-10 in Duluth, Ga.

So Alverson made the most of it, pouring in 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists – all game bests.

The final tallies don’t do justice to Alverson’s first half, when her 18 points not only matched Alabama’s total (Auburn exploded to an 41-18 lead, its largest halftime advantage of the season) but also set a team standard for the highest-scoring individual half this season.

“This could be the last time I play Alabama, so definitely it meant a lot more,” said the Andalusia native and Auburn’s Homecoming Queen last fall. “I wanted to put the team on my shoulders and get out to a good start.

“When you play against Alabama twice a year, you always want to come out on top. We lost earlier in the year (at Tuscaloosa) and we had something to play for today.”

All the Tigers wore pink-shaded uniforms, playing for different loved ones who battled or are battling the second-most common cancer among women in the United States.

For Davis, the 6-foot-5 junior center who finished with six points and seven rebounds, she was playing for herself. She had surgery to remove a benign (non-cancerous) lump from her breast Jan. 25, the day after she had a double-double in a 61-51 loss at Alabama.

“It was hard to separate things. The Auburn family, and I know we talk about it all time, it just awesome,” Davis said. “A lot of people have reached out to me. It’s awesome to be able to play for such a good cause and raise awareness for early detection.”

Auburn (14-11, 3-9 SEC) now has home wins over potential SEC first-round foes Alabama (12-13, 2-10) and Ole Miss. The Tigers’ last win previous to Saturday was against the Rebels, back on Jan. 10.

“I’m just happy for them because it’s a lot of work being a student-athlete,” Williams-Flourney said. “When you’re putting in the work and you’re really not seeing the rewards, it becomes even harder.”

Guards Hasina Muhammad (15 points) and Tyrese Tanner (14) also carried the scoring load for the Tigers, who had not reached the 70-point plateau during the eight-game slide.

Alabama Auburn Basketball

THREE-POINTERS

No. 34 Becky Jackson (1980-84), the program’s all-time leading rebounder, had her jersey number retired during a lengthy halftime ceremony. Jackson, who left the school as Auburn’s top all-time scorer at the time, is the fifth woman to receive this honor, now joining No. 21 Carolyn Jones, No. 25 Ruthie Bolton, and No. 50 Vicki Orr.

Jackson’s in even more famous company with her Auburn jersey number – Bo Jackson (football) and Charles Barkley (men’s basketball) have also had No. 34 retired by the university.

Tanner’s younger sister, Tra’cee, earned her first career start. Point guard Najat Ouardad (ankle injury) missed her second consecutive game, dressed in street clothes and a walking boot on the bench.

Ouardad is questionable for Auburn’s next test, Thursday at No. 12-ranked Tennessee.

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