The sixth-seeded Lady Bulldogs (17-10, 6-8 SEC) don't have the size advantage that most SEC teams enjoy over Arkansas (15-12, 3-11), and they lost 83-71 to the Lady'Backs this season.
"Honestly, that was one of our best games," said UA coach Susie Gardner. "It was at home, however."
Neither team will have many fans when they meet at approximately 8:18 p.m. today (more like 8:30) in the Bi-Lo Center.
"It's the same for both teams," said MSU coach Sharon Fanning. "We usually play at 7, so this is a little later. I hope we're relaxed and focused, and play hard, because I know Arkansas will play hard."
The Lady Bulldogs feature 5-7 senior guard Tan White, who leads the SEC in scoring with a 23.0 average.
White scored 29 against Arkansas in Fayetteville, but Lady'Backs junior defensive ace Adrienne Bush contained her pretty well early in the game.
"In the recent film I've seen, Tan just jumps out at you," Gardner said.
Sarah Pfeifer led Arkansas with 21 points against MSU last time, and is on a roll lately, averaging 17.4 points in her last seven games to make a late bid for All-SEC consideration.
Pfeifer suffered a "very mild" concussion late in a 73-67 loss at Kentucky on Sunday, and also faces surgery on her "good shoulder" after the season, but she should be fine tonight.
"On the films I've seen, Arkansas plays so hard," Fanning said. "I like their energy. They took it to us at their place and beat us. Folks will have to take care of the ball against them."
Gardner has made one change in the starting lineup, re-inserting Rochelle Vaughn at guard after having replaced her with Sheree Thompson the past seven games.
Vaughn had 15 points and 7 rebounds against Kentucky, with 3 assists and just 1 turnover in 34 minutes. She finished impressively on a couple of fast breaks in the second half.
"We need more scoring from our guards," Gardner said Monday at the Lady'Back luncheon. "That's a priority in recruiting."
Last season, Mississippi State sent Arkansas recruiting early by bouncing the Lady'Backs from the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn., 79-74 in the first round.
At 16-12, Gardner elected not to accept a WNIT bid last year. But now she says, "We'll play as long as anyone will let us."
With just five SEC teams above .500 in league play, Mississippi State and Auburn at 6-8 each appear to be the only SEC bubble teams for NCAA Tournament play.
"I want us to leave it on the floor and play 40 minutes against Arkansas this time," Fanning said.
Auburn coach Nell Fortner said, "I'd like to think two wins in this tournament would give us a legitimate shot. That's how you keep hope alive with a senior-dominated team. But if it doesn't happen, we would definitely consider the WNIT."
Auburn, with a first-round win over Kentucky today, would still have to face second-seeded Tennessee on Friday.
Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt seemed taken aback when someone suggested her team might not be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"I think we've earned a No. 1 seed," Summitt said. "Look at the schedule we've played. We're disappointed not to win the league for the first time in seven years, so we may be even more excited about the SEC Tournament."
LSU coach Pokey Chatman, whose No. 1 team blitzed the league at 14-0, told a story about the continuing aura of Tennessee.
"In December I was doing a radio show and a caller wanted to know the date of our Tennessee game," Chatman said. "I just knew it was in February. But that shows we're chasing a program of such power. It's good to have that in our conference."
If the Lady'Backs are to shake up the SEC applecart, they'll have to do it as night owls. They would not begin a game before 8:30 p.m., until Sunday's 6 p.m. final on ESPN2.
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