March 8, 2008
(Photo by Neil Brake)|
More Coverage: Vanderbilt 49 Auburn 44
The stage had been set for the upset. Third-seeded Vanderbilt was on its way to its lowest scoring output of the season, and leading scorer and first team All-SEC selection Christina Wirth was 0-for-8 from the field.
Despite the struggles, Vanderbilt still led by as many as 12 points in the second half before sixth-seeded Auburn, led by DeWanna Bonner's game-high 23 points, had climbed all the way back to tie the game at 41 with 2 minutes to play.
In addition to Wirth's struggles from the field, Vanderbilt's Liz Sherwood (eight points) had fouled out and Jessica Mooney (10 points) had four fouls. The team needed a boost, but from where? With the team shooting just 34.7 percent from the floor and no player with more than 10 points, there was no hot hand to turn to.
So instead of trying something new, the team went back to the person they have counted on all season ... and she came through. With the tension building on Vanderbilt's bench, Wirth caught a pass from Jennifer Risper and fired a jumper home from the elbow that gave Vanderbilt a 43-41 lead with 1:48 to play.
"When she made that shot, we all breathed easy," Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb said. "We became as a team tense because she wasn't hitting her shots and we rely on her so much. She has been so consistent for us and has been the go to, and has hit so many big shots.
The shot gave Vanderbilt the lead for good, and removed Wirth's goose egg in the scoring column of the box score.
"I think it was a momentum builder and everyone was relieved that I finally hit a shot," Wirth said. "At that point (0-for-8), I felt like I wasn't doing anything to help the team. The team relies on me to score, that's one of my roles, and so I was very well aware that I wasn't doing that."
While Wirth's shot gave Vanderbilt the extra boost it needed to hold on for a 49-44 win, setting up a showdown with No. 3 Tennessee on Saturday, it also broke Auburn's back.
"She wasn't getting many looks, but God, she killed us with that one at the end, at the elbow," Auburn head coach Nell Fortner said.
Being able to make that shot with the pressure on the line and things not going her way is something Balcomb attributes to the junior's growth as a player.
"What is nice to know is that no matter how much she struggled all game offensively, she took big charges and she stepped up at the end of the game and was able to make that big shot," Balcomb said. "To be able to do that says a lot about her maturity on the floor as a player."
With her shots not falling, it would have been easy for Wirth to quit shooting, and if not for her teammates' encouragement, she may not have wanted to pull the trigger on that last shot.
"My teammates were really supportive they kept saying you've missed as many as you can miss and you're going to make one," Wirth said. "I was kind of surprised how open I was, but when you don't hit a shot all game, they kind of start sagging off of you."