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March 3, 2013

Her best for last: AvaBlanche explodes for 32, Auburn does Senior Day right with 74-65 win

AUBURN BASKETBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Blanche Alverson had never scored 30 points in a game before.

Ever. At any level.

“I got 29 once,” Alverson recalled, thinking back to high school. And she’d scored 27 in an Auburn uniform, too.

Nothing like giving her loyal fans something to remember her by in her final home game.

Alverson seized the moment on Senior Day, erupting for 32 points in a valuable 74-65 victory Sunday afternoon over Mississippi State at Auburn Arena.

It was a perfect sendoff in front of 2,783 fans for Alverson, point guard Najat Ouardad (8 assists), Julie King and Pascale West, who helped the Tigers (16-13, 5-11 SEC) record a 12-3 mark at home, more than satisfactory to their first-year head coach Terri Williams-Flourney.

“It’s a great senior class – it is tough as a senior to accept a new head coach, because there is nothing you can do about it,” Williams-Flourney said. “You have to stay, you can’t transfer, you have nowhere to go. They did a great job of accepting me and doing everything I asked them to do.”

Without the win, Auburn (16-13, 5-11 SEC) would have been locked in to the league tournament play-in game against Alabama.

Instead, the Tigers grabbed the No. 11 seed, and by virtue of Ole Miss’ self-imposed postseason ban, Auburn gets to take Wednesday off and will face No. 6 LSU Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga.

Admirably, the one some have nicknamed ‘AvaBlanche’ didn’t let one of the worst shooting nights of her life affect her outside shooting confidence. Just three days ago, she clanked all eight 3-point tries, going 3-for-15 from the floor, in a heartbreaking loss at Vanderbilt.

Upon swishing her first 3-point attempt, a smile crept across Alverson’s face. She knew.

It was on.

“When I hit my first couple of shots, I think (my teammates) all knew I was feeling it a little bit, and I knew I was in the zone,” Alverson said. “I was definitely a little anxious just before the game because I didn’t shoot well against Vanderbilt, so I wanted to really have a complete game.

“This was the best I could have hoped for.”

The most points any Tiger has scored in a game in four years – 12-for-16 from the floor, 5-of-9 from three – it wasn’t just the volume but the timing of Alverson’s takeover.

Auburn led 40-24 at the break, but Mississippi State (13-16, 5-11) threatened to spoil Senior Day by creeping back within a one-possession game, trailing 48-45 with a little under 12 minutes remaining.

Then, a Blanche layup. A Blanche 3-pointer from the wing. And, because it’s what she does, another 3-pointer from the top of the key in transition.

Three buckets, eight points, 67 seconds. Just like that, the lead was back to 11, and Auburn surged from there.

Alverson became the second Auburn woman and 33rd SEC player to record 200 3-pointers.

After the final buzzer she’ll hear in Auburn Arena as a player, Alverson took pictures with adoring members of the Auburn student section, before snatching the game ball on her way off the floor.

“I was really in my thoughts today,” Alverson said, “thinking this was my last game here and it’s been a great four years.”

Ouardad, a Frenchwoman who played her last two years at Auburn, was teary and emotional during pregame Senior Day ceremonies, arm-in-arm with her host family. She shook it off, moving into 16th place all-time in Auburn assists.

“I did cry, because people here have been so great to me,” Ouardad said, “and being from overseas, all these girls are like my family.”

Junior Tyrese Tanner added 19 points, and her younger sister Tra’cee Tanner led the Tigers with six rebounds. Auburn forced 31 turnovers, including 15 steals (five for Ouardad.)

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