By Wil Crews
Unique Thompson was absent from the Auburn Women’s basketball team’s first two SEC games of the season, as the Tigers fell to LSU and Georgia.
Thompson, a preseason First Team All-SEC selection, had been averaging 18.8 points and an SEC-high 15.3 rebounds per game this season before missing the last two games due to medical reasons.
On New Year’s Day, without their best player, Auburn opened its SEC schedule against LSU (3-4, 1-0). Auburn’s strong first-half effort was led by freshmen Romi Levy and Aicha Coulibaly, who combined for 20 points and 16 rebounds against the bayou Tigers.
Coulibaly led Auburn with a career high 12 points. Levy added eight points and a career-high 11 rebounds, along with five steals.
As a team, Auburn shot a season-low 28.3% from the field, and 3-of-18 on threes (16.7%). Auburn pulled down 39 rebounds to LSU’s 43 and forced LSU into 19 turnovers.
Levy and Coulibaly combined for more than half of Auburn’s first half points as they took a 27-19 lead into halftime. In the second half, turnovers for Auburn were the difference in the game. Without the leadership and presence of Thompson, the Tigers were forced into turning it over 13 times, which turned into 17 LSU points. What was a seven-point half time lead quickly evaporated and turned into a two-point deficit late in the third. Auburn went nearly six minutes of game time without a basket and LSU turned up the pressure on defense as the “Tigahs” went on their run.
For the game, Khayla Pointer led LSU with 14 points, Tiara Young and Jailin Cherry added eight apiece.
Next, the lady Tigers looked to bounce back with a home game against Georgia (9-1, 1-1). The Tigers were outmatched by the size and depth of the lady bulldogs, losing 76-44 in Auburn Arena.
Auburn (5-5, 0-2) desperately missed Thompson’s veteran presence as the Tigers looked flustered as they turned the ball over a season-high 27 times. Georgia converted those into 26 points.
“Georgia is very good at scoring quickly, especially off turnovers,” Williams-Flournoy said. “And we’ve got to have people shoot better. We have to be able to score. We knew (Georgia) was going to be very aggressive, especially in the half court. Their defense is really good in the half court, so we knew we had to pop to get open.”
For the game, Auburn shot 30.8% from the field (16-52) and hit just one three-pointer on 11 attempts. By comparison, Georgia shot 50% (31-62), splashed in 5-of-14 threes and outrebounded the Tigers by a 43-27 margin. It was a complete all-around game for the Lady Bulldogs as 12 of the 15 players who saw the floor scored.
Junior Keya Patton was the Auburn player who reached double figures with 12 points, going 6-of-7 from the free-throw line. Jala Jordan followed her with 9 points. Alaina Rice and Honesty Scott-Grayson were the Tigers’ top rebounders with four apiece. Romi Levy had a career-high six steals, the most by an Auburn player this season as the Tigers would go on to turn over Georgia 22 times.
The Lady Bulldogs were led by Jenna Staiti, who had 13 points and four blocks. Javyn Nicholson was the Dawgs’ top rebounder with eight.
“I thought we had a lot of unforced turnovers, and it’s the unforced turnovers where we have to get better,” said Auburn Head Coach Terri-Williams Flournoy. “We’ve got to have some people to step up.”
Auburn hits the road again for the third game of league play as they take on Ole Miss Thursday night. Whether Thompson will return is unclear. Game is scheduled for 6 p.m. CST at The Pavilion at Ole Miss.