SEC women's tourney wrapup

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The higher seeds all advanced Thursday - though two had to hold off second-half comebacks by the upset-minded - in the first day of the SEC tourney. Go inside for a recap of the action.

GAME ONE:No. 8 seed Florida vs. No. 9 seed Auburn

Winner:Florida, 70-60

Up next: Florida (19-11) vs. No. 1 seed Kentucky (21-8)

Significance: Nell Fortner coached her last college game for Auburn (13-17), as she announced her retirement last month.

The Gators boosted their resume for the NCAA tourney with another win. Florida is thought to be the eighth SEC team into the Big Dance already, but a win in Nashville makes a better case for them.

A win over Kentucky over Friday would likely make the Gators a lock.

Key stats: Points off turnovers and free throws.

The Gators got 20 points off turnovers compared to just eight for the Tigers. Florida also was 20-26 from the line while Auburn was 7-10 from the stripe.

Florida had four players in double figures, led by 17 points from guard Jordan Jones. Auburn had three players in double figures led by Hasina Muhammad with 20 points.

Jennifer George grabbed 14 boards for Florida with six coming on the offensive end. Muhammad led Auburn with nine rebounds and also had six on offense.

Florida led 34-22 at halftime and then went on an 11-3 run to start the second half. The Gators needed that cushion to hold off Auburn.

Key quotes:

Auburn Coach Nell Fortner: "I think just overall I'm most proud of everything that Auburn has meant to me and helped me accomplish. The administration gave us everything we needed from budget to scheduling to do everything we can to attract the best athletes.

"I think it just came to me in my life at the right time, and hopefully I came into Auburn's life at the right time. I'll forever be an Auburn Tiger."

Florida Coach Amanda Butler: "It was an important win for us for a lot of reasons. … Didn't close out exactly as strong as we wanted to. But this time of year, it's just about some times hanging on to survive long enough.

" … I don't know that we felt like the lead was comfortable. I don't think we ever really felt comfortable. But definitely having a lead and feeling like you were at least in the driver's seat was important for us."

GAME TWO: No. 7 seed Vanderbilt vs. No. 10 seed Mississippi State

Winner: Vanderbilt, 67-51

Up next: Vanderbilt (22-8) vs. No. 2 seed Tennessee (21-8)

Significance: Sharon Fanning-Otis coached her last game at Mississippi State (14-16) as she announced her retirement last month. Fanning-Otis will remain with the school and serve in a fund-raising capacity.

In-state rivals Tennessee and Vanderbilt will now meet in the quarterfinals for the first time since 1991. The two teams have crossed paths in the SEC tourney before, but it's usually in the semis or title game.

Vandy beat the Lady Vols, 93-79, in the regular season meeting in Nashville on Feb. 9, so Tennessee should be motivated for a rematch.

Tennessee eliminated Vandy in the semifinals in this same arena in 2008 and then again in 2010 in Duluth, Ga., so the Commodores will be motivated to stick around in their hometown.

Key stats:Once again, points off turnovers and free throws.

Vanderbilt built a 17-point lead against Mississippi State, but the Lady Bulldogs got back in the game with their defense. Mississippi State scored 30 points off of 22 miscues by the Commodores. Vandy tallied 12 points off of 14 turnovers by their opponent.

Vandy was 21-25 from the free throw line, while Mississippi State got to the stripe just seven times and made four.

Two other key stats: the long ball and board play. Vandy was 6-12 from behind the arc. Mississippi State was 3-11. The Commodores out-rebounded the Lady Bulldogs, 41-28.

Diamber Johnson led the Lady Bulldogs with 14 points. Christina Foggie led Vandy with 18 points. Stephanie Holzer got the double-double with 12 points, 10 boards.

Key quotes:

Mississippi State Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis: "I think in life as we look back on whatever we do, usually the people we work with, that's where the memories come from, the people who you've been with, all the players, all the coaches, anybody that you worked with at the university.

" … I am very thankful for that, very thankful for the blessing of being able to continue to work with the university."

Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb: "That I'm old."

That was Balcomb's response, to laughter, when asked about getting her 400th career win.

"Sharon Fanning is leaving so now I'm the third oldest. All the people are talking about is that I'm the third oldest in the SEC.

"It sounds like I coached a lot of games. But I don't get those wins. I don't get any of them by myself. I don't get to play, like I said earlier. I wasn't a real good player. Don't tell my players that."

GAME THREE: No. 5 seed Arkansas vs. No. 12 seed Ole Miss

Winner: Arkansas, 67-47

Up next: Arkansas (22-7) vs. No. 4 seed LSU (20-9)

Significance: The loss ends the 2011-12 season for Ole Miss (12-18) and the Rebels will enter the off-season with a core group of young players, led by sophomore Valencia McFarland and four freshmen, Danielle McCray, Monique Jackson, Amber Singletary and Tia Faleru, who all started in Nashville.

Arkansas had to play the first day, but used 13 players so the starters got some rest. Ashley Daniels logged 31 minutes, but the other four starters were at 27, 19, 18 and 15 minutes.

The Razorbacks should have plenty in the tank for their Friday game against LSU.

Arkansas also got its first win in the SEC tourney since 2005.

Key stats: Turnovers and the trey ball.

Arkansas was 9-18 from behind the arc, while Ole Miss was just 1-12.

Arkansas also posted 28 points off turnovers to just eight for Ole Miss. The Rebels had 23 miscues while the Razorbacks had 15.

Danielle McCray led Ole Miss with 14 points. C'eira Ricketts led Arkansas with 10 points.

Key quotes:

Ole Miss Coach Renee Ladner: "I understand why Arkansas is the hottest team in the league. They came out ready to play. They seemed to be on a mission. They're just getting a little bit better with each game.

" … I tip my hat to Arkansas; they did an outstanding job. Put is in a hole early, and we never could get out of it."

Arkansas Coach Tom Collen: "We talked about trying to come out and play well early, first four minutes, next four minutes. Thought we jumped out to a good lead. We shot the ball well. Our defense was good."

GAME FOUR: No. 6 seed South Carolina vs. No. 11 seed Alabama

Winner: South Carolina, 57-38

Up next: South Carolina (22-8) vs. No. 3 seed Georgia (22-7)

Significance: The loss ends the Crimson Tide's 2011-12 season. Alabama (12-19) was led by junior Kyra Crosby and sophomore Jasmine Robinson so two key performers will be back next season for Alabama.

South Carolina showed it could win despite a field goal drought of nearly 10 minutes in the first half by relying on its defense and sticking its free throws.

The Gamecocks also were able to save their legs for the second day by using 13 players. No starter logged over 21 minutes. The most minutes played was the 22 logged by Ashley Bruner off the bench.

Key stats: Free throws and shooting percentage.

Alabama shot anemically at 26.4 percent. South Carolina connected at just 32.7 percent. But the Gamecocks were 18-24 from the line - and 12-15 in the first half - while the Crimson Tide was 9-15.

South Carolina also got 30 points from its bench compared to just 10 by Alabama's reserves.

Alabama was led by Robinson with 11 points and Crosby with 10 points.

La'Keisha Sutton led South Carolina with 15 points while Markeshia Grant added 10.

Key quotes:

Alabama Coach Wendell Hudson: "I thought we played hard. We were not able to score. … South Carolina had something to do with the way we played.

"I just thought we had opportunities and didn't take advantage of the opportunities. But as far as playing hard and giving a good effort, I thought both teams played very hard."

South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley: "It's always a great thing, especially in this type of tournament format (to be able to rest starters). We put ourselves in a position where we have to win four in a row. We're here for the long haul."

ODDS AND ENDS

FIRST BASKET: Scored by Florida's Jennifer George just 12 seconds into the game against Auburn.

LAST BASKET: Scored by South Carolina's Pamela Decheva with 32 seconds remaining in the game against Alabama.

BEST LOBBYING: That done by a Mississippi State cheerleader who walked over to a section of Tennessee fans and asked them to cheer for the Lady Bulldogs. That group of Lady Vol fans were happy to oblige and pull against Vanderbilt.

The orange-clad fans cheering for Vandy seemed eager for a rematch Friday.

LONELIEST CREW: Once again, definitely the Internet Help Desk staff at Bridgestone Arena. This venue has the best, fastest and most reliable high-speed Internet of any tourney host site.

BEST POMPOM TOSS: The Florida cheerleaders, who throw their pompoms in the air and chant "air ball" when that mishap occurs for the opponent.

BEST BAND EXCHANGE: BEST REVERSE CONFUSION: Usually bands will chant a false shot clock countdown when the opponent has the ball that starts too soon - the team has several more seconds than the chant, but they hope to force a rushed shot.

Arkansas' band changed it and when the shot clock got to four, they started the chant at eight seconds to make Ole Miss think they had more time to try (and thus would get a shot clock violation). The Rebels got a shot in time but missed.

HOOPS WATCHERS: Tennessee supporters. Even with the Lady Vols not playing Thursday they were in attendance. Every section in the arena that had fans in seats had at least one fan - and usually several more - in Tennessee orange in the group. Not a single section was orange-less.

BEST QUIP: That on press row. When it was noted that Ole Miss didn't bring its mascot, which is now a black bear, one media type said: "It's still hibernating."

The nickname of Ole Miss remains the Rebels, but the mascot recently changed to a bear from Colonel Reb.

Ole Miss was the only school among the eight who played that didn't have a mascot present Thursday.

BEST DISTRACTION: The lips of "Cocky," South Carolina's mascot. When an Alabama player went to the line, the Gamecock mascot stood near the goal and loudly flapped the yellow lips of the costume.

It technically must be the beak, but it's very flexible and makes quite a racket.

BEST CHEERS: Those made every time the "We Back Pat" campaign was mentioned on the overhead video screen to encourage support for Pat Summitt's foundation to fight Alzheimer's.

The cheers should be even louder Friday during Tennessee's game with Summitt on the sideline.


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