BLACKSBURG, Va. — The field of 16 was as sweet as it got for Virginia Tech’s women this season.

The Auburn Tigers got 27 points, nine rebounds and two blocks from 6-foot-4 DeWanna Bonner and defeated Tech 81-73 Thursday night in the third round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.

Britney Anderson closed out her Tech career with her best scoring game, recording 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field.

Sophomore Brittany Cook, a two-time Pocahontas Coal Association/Bluefield Daily Telegraph Player of the Year, led Tech with six rebounds and tossed in 4-of-5 3-point tries, ending with 14 points.

Kirby Copeland provided eight assists and 11 points in her final game for Tech.

Virginia Tech’s third senior, Nara Diawara, had her hands full with Bonner and her teammates, and was held to four rebounds, half her average, and 10 points.

Tech coach Beth Dunkenberger said it was, “A well fought battle. We managed to keep it close. ... They’re a very talented team.”

She emphasized the contributions of her seniors. “They stepped up and led a very young team, and I think our three seniors had seasons they could be very proud of.”

In the program’s 10th straight postseason appearance, the Hokies ultimately were unable to keep the Tigers from driving the ball inside — especially Bonner.

“We were struggling to guard No. 24 (Bonner) off the dribble,” Dunkenberger said. “She was on fire on tonight. She is one of the best players in the nation.”

Auburn coach Nell Fortner said, “We came in here with that gameplan to attack off the dribble. We’re a good penetrating team, and we thought we could take advantage of some areas against Virginia Tech (like) our post players against their post players.”

The Tigers, who won the WNIT in its only previous turn (2003), fielded a young team. Nine of its 13 players are sophomores or freshmen.

They’re young, but they’re good. Auburn (21-12) averaged 5.6 blocks and 8.8 steals per game. Thursday night, they had five blocks and 11 steals forcing Tech (19-15) into 19 turnovers.

“I think turnovers have been our nemesis all year long,” Dunkenberger said. “Some of those, we were being aggressive and we just mishandled that ball. And it’s hard for me to fault them when they are playing hard.”

At the start, Tech got tremendous production, first from Copeland, and then from Lyndsay Biggs, to grab an 19-11 lead. Copeland drove fearlessly into the paint for seven of Tech’s first 11 points. Biggs came off the bench to score the Hokies’ next eight, nailing a pair of 3-pointers.

Copeland said, “It wasn’t anything planned. It was just me taking what the defense gave me. ... It was just me being aggressive. And I think when I stopped being aggressive, I started turning over the ball.”

The Tigers used a 13-2 run to take a 26-23 lead with seven minutes left in the half. In the last minute of the first half, three more Tech turnovers and two Auburn baskets made the score 37-32.

The game tightened up again for the next 16 minutes of play. Anderson, who had 16 of her points after intermission, gave the home squad the lead twice, briefly, off the drives to the hoop.

Anderson said, “I kept cutting in the middle and it was wide open. They’re a young team too, and we kind of capitalized. ... “(We) just cut to the middle over and over and they never caught onto it.”

The Tigers made 13-of-24 field goals in the second half, and gradually pulled away. Fortner said, “We hit big shots in the second half that we had to have to win the ball game. ... It’s about knocking down shots when you had to.”

As the 1,232 fans were filing out of Cassell Coliseum, Dunkenberger gave credit to her seniors one more time.

“These seniors did go out with four straight years of postseason play and three of those were in the NCAA Tournament.”

—Contact Tom Bone

at tbone@bdtonline.com

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