STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania (Ticker) -- Lori Nero scored 17 of her 23 points in the first half as seventh-seeded Auburn won its 14th straight NCAA Tournament opener with a 78-74 Midwest Region triumph over Southwest Missouri State.
The Tigers captured the first meeting between these schools and have not fallen in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament since 1982. They will play Penn State in the second round on Sunday.
Auburn (22-7) scored 14 straight points to open a 65-54 lead with just under eight minutes remaining. Conswella Sparrow poured in six straight for the Tigers to close the spurt, with Tasha Hamilton chipping in four.
Jackie Stiles, the nation's leading scorer, had six points to key a 13-2 spurt as Southwest Missouri State (23-9) climbed within 74-72 with 45 seconds left. But Tiffany Krantz and Kris Bernath each made a pair of free throws to seal the win for the Tigers.
"Give Auburn credit. Their defense did a good job," Stiles said. "All five of their players were athletic and strong. They were getting the rebounds, especially offensive ones that killed us." Nero was 11-of-11 from the line and 6-of-9 from the floor as Auburn snapped a two-game skid. Hamilton scored 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting and Krantz added 14, going 9-of-10 from the line.
"I'm not going to say I was surprised because I know I can do it," Nero said. "I was just happy and I hope I can keep it up." Stiles netted 18 of her 30 points in the second half and shot 11-of-20 for SW Missouri State, which finished with four losses in its last six games.
Carly Deer poured in 18 points, Tara Mitchem added 15 and Melody Campbell had 12 assists for the Bears, who shot 45 percent (28-of-62) but were only 5-of-16 from 3-point range.
Nero helped Auburn shoot 48 percent in the first half en route to a 41-35 lead. SW Missouri State shot 54 percent (15-of-28) from the floor but was just 2-of-8 from beyond the arc over the opening 20 minutes.