AUBURN - Junior Alli Smalley scored a team-high 26 points as the Auburn women's basketball team (14-15, 5-11 SEC) knocked off No. 16/14 Kentucky (23-6, 11-5 SEC), 65-53, in the final women's basketball game played at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.
Senior KeKe Carrier, playing on Senior Night, followed up with 13 points and became just the 26th Auburn player ever to score 1,000 career points. She finished the game with 1,002 points.
Redshirt junior Jordan Greenleaf also scored in double digits, posting 10 points along with a team-high eight rebounds.
"We have talked for the last few days about this being our last game in Beard-Eaves," said Auburn head coach Nell Fortner. "You are not just playing for yourselves and your team this year, but for the history of the Auburn women's basketball program. They really took that to heart and I am proud of them for that. We were representing a lot of people on that floor tonight.
"This is a history-making game. The team might not appreciate it so much right now or understand the significance of it, but they are going to at one point in their lives. They can say they were on the team that won the last game played at Beard-Eaves and that is special."
Carrier, who made her final regular-season home appearance for Auburn, surpassed 1,000 career points with a layup at the 14:20 mark of the second half. She is the fourth player recruited to Auburn to reach the plateau, following DeWanna Bonner (2,162 points), Sherell Hobbs (1,372 points) and Smalley (1,167 points).
"I wasn't focusing on all that," said Carrier. "I just wanted to be effective. This was my last game in the Coliseum and I just wanted to play big. I kept my mindset to go out and dominate. It was a big game and I had to go all out.
"Through the years we have done a good job and we left a big legacy. I am proud of everybody."
The Wildcats came out to a quick 4-0 lead in the opening 1:32 of play.
However, the Auburn defense responded, holding Kentucky scoreless for the next six minutes as the Tigers opened to a 10-4 lead. Kentucky's Amber Smith connected on a 3-pointer at the 12:13 mark, ending the drought and setting off a five-point run to bring the Auburn lead to just one.
A layup from Carrier and a three-point play from sophomore Parrisha Simmons gave Auburn a six-point advantage. Kentucky would again scrap back to a one-point deficit at the 7:22 mark but the Tigers maintained the advantage, eventually taking a 27-21 lead into the locker room.
"It was a fantastic performance by Auburn," said Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell. "You have to give them so much credit for coming out with so much energy and effort. They played extremely hard and had a great game plan. I really admire the way they came out and played today."
The Tigers continued their intensity in the second half, building the lead to 15 by the 14:20 mark when Carrier sank her layup. Kentucky was unable to break into Auburn's double-digit lead until the 7:31 mark, when a Rebecca Gray 3-pointer brought the score to 48-39. The shot was just three points of a 9-0 run that put the Wildcats just five points behind with 5:41 to go.
That was when Smalley found another gear. The Arab, Ala., native took off on a 10-point tear in the closing minutes, highlighted by a pair of three-pointers that ignited the crowd of 4,614.
"I just wanted to sit back, have some popcorn and watch a little bit,"said Fortner. "When (Smalley) starts feeling it like that, you just want to sit back and enjoy the show. She hit some big baskets that we had to have."
With the lead 61-53 and only 48 seconds remaining, freshman Blanche Alverson and Greenleaf were both sent to the line by Kentucky fouls. The pair sank all four attempts from the stripe, giving the Tigers the
65-53 victory and Auburn's third win over a team ranked in the top 20 of the Associated Press poll this season. The Tigers also defeated No. 11 LSU (64-62, OT) on Jan. 10 and No. 9 Georgia (67-53) on Jan. 31.
Auburn won the battle down low, out-rebounding the Wildcats, 43-27. The Tigers also outscored Kentucky 32-26 in the paint and held Kentucky's Victoria Dunlap, the Wildcats' leader in points, rebounds, blocks and steals, to just four points, five rebounds, two steals and no blocks.
Auburn shot 44 percent (24-of-54) from the field, two-of-nine from outside the arc and 15-of-18 from the line, the team's second highest percentage at the charity stripe this season.
Kentucky's A'dia Mathies led the Wildcats in scoring with 20 while Amani Franklin led the team with six boards.
The Wildcats connected on only 36 percent (22-of-61) from the field and were 6-of-17 for 35 percent from 3-point range. Kentucky made it to the free throw line only five times, hitting three.
Auburn won despite committing 22 turnovers in the game that turned into 21 Kentucky points. But, the Tigers managed to also score 21 points off turnovers, forcing 17 on the back of a season-high 12 steals. Smalley led the Tigers with four steals in the game.
The victory gave the women a 349-72 record in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum since it started playing the majority of their games at the facility in 1979. Fortner finishes with a 53-23 record in the Coliseum.
Auburn clinched the No. 10 seed in next week's Southeastern Conference Tournament with the win. The Tigers will play at 1:30 p.m. CT, Thursday, March 4 in the first round of the tournament at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. The opponent for the game is still to be determined.
For more information on the SEC Tournament and Auburn's opponent, fans can listen to the Nell Fortner Show live on WKKR 97.7 FM at 6 p.m., Monday. Because of the tournament, the show was moved Monday at the Auburn Network studios.