The crowds got larger – there was an influx of orange-clad fans – on the second day as the two sessions drew a total of 9,495 after a first-day total of 5,671. Today's session, which will be the fifth of the tournament, should boost overall attendance, especially since the top seeds will square off.
GAME ONE: No. 1 seed LSU vs. No. 9 seed Alabama. RESULT: LSU wins, 60-59.
LSU was presented with the regular season trophy a few minutes before tipoff. Alabama nearly sent the top seed home without a tournament win.
In a brilliantly schemed game, coach Rick Moody managed to slow down LSU, which grew increasingly agitated as the game wore on. LSU never gained the lead until Scholanda Hoston hit a layup with 1:09 left in the game to put the Lady Tigers up by one, 58-57. LSU led by three, 60-57, after two free throws by Seimone Augustus, but Alabama appeared to tie the game on a three-pointer by Natasha Gamble with five seconds left.
Time expired before LSU could attempt a shot – point guard Temeka Johnson later told coach Pokey Chatman that she saw the official signal a two and so she opted to run out the clock instead of making a drive to the basket – and the crowd and both coaches thought the game was going to overtime.
However, because one official signaled for a three and another signaled a two, the score remained in dispute. Crew chief Brian Enterline requested a television replay to determine if the shot was made behind the arc. The first two replays were inconclusive; the third showed Gamble's right foot on the line, Enterline said.
"Two of the angles were not clear, but the last angle we looked at, her right foot was touching the line," said Bill Stokes, coordinator of women's basketball officials.
The score was changed to 60-59, and five seconds were put on the clock. Alabama immediately fouled Hoston, who missed both free throws with four seconds left. Bama got the rebound, but a desperation heave fell short.
The crowd reacted with deafening boos as LSU's and Bama's players shook hands after the game. Several Crimson Tide players were crying, as were a few cheerleaders. The Tennessee fans in attendance gave Alabama a standing ovation as the team left the court.
"We went to the locker room with a lot of pride, and I'm glad everybody saw that and appreciated that," said Bama's Krystle Johnson.
Afterward, it was hard to tell in the press conferences who won the game as players and coaches on both sides were subdued. Alabama, 14-15, was still shell-shocked. LSU, besides being mired in a controversial ending, was upset with the way it played.
It was Moody's last game as coach of the Crimson Tide, and it will certainly be a memorable one.
"I think all of us would prefer to have had the opportunity to play for five more minutes and let the players decide the outcome of the game," Moody said. "But rules are rules. Throughout my career I've been on both sides of decisions like this."
Moody was red-eyed and emotional as he addressed the media. His team outplayed LSU and nearly pulled off the upset of the tournament. LSU, 28-1 and ranked No. 1 in the country, was saved by Augustus, who scored 20 points on 8-15 shooting. The Crimson Tide was led by Monique Bivins, who had 20 points of her own on 6-12 shooting, including 5-9 from behind the arc.
"The proved to themselves that they can play with anybody in the country and hopefully this is a memory they can carry with them the rest of their lives," Moody said.
In the short term any coach that has to play LSU will be requesting a game tape. Moody devised a defensive scheme that he called "junk."
"Some teams had used a zone against them, and they didn't win and a lot of teams used a man defense against them, and none of them won," Moody said. "I figured we might as well come up with some junk, something nobody else has tried. We came up with three different defenses, but the first one worked so well we just stuck with that one. It was a combination of zone and man."
Augustus said the scheme "lured us into jump shots, which benefited them." She and other players also noted that the Lady Tigers were their own worst enemy at times.
"Alabama's overall effort was great," Johnson said. "Ours was bad. Not taking anything away from Alabama, but most of it was us."
Of course that was the beauty of it. Alabama forced LSU to be bad. Bama players also beat LSU to the ball and held their own on the boards. LSU appeared sluggish and well out of sync offensively.
Moody said LSU tends to score in bunches so he decided game tempo was key. The Bama players controlled it for 39 minutes and 55 seconds. The last five seconds were out of their control.
"Plans are worthless if they are not believed in and executed by players," Moody said. "I am so proud of this team's execution tonight."
Gamble said after the game she didn't know if her foot was on the line. She dribbled to try to create a sliver of space to get off the shot and then swished it through.
Enterline said the officials can't consider emotion or flow of a game when requesting a replay. Because two officials disagreed, a replay was needed, and the initial ruling on the floor was, in official parlance, "a correctable error."
"As officials we don't bring in the swings of the game, crowd favorites," Enterline said. "Our job is to call the game, the best way we can and with the use of replay – if we didn't have replay then we would be going into overtime but because we have replay opportunities if we make it a three then it's not fair to the other team. We have to be as fair and as unbiased as possible."
Chatman wondered why Johnson was in no hurry to get to the basket in a tie game, but the point guard thought LSU was up by one.
"I thought it was odd that Temeka did not have a sense of urgency," Chatman said. "I have a lot of confidence in this kid and her game management."
LSU will now play Georgia in today's semifinal at 7 p.m. Lady Bulldogs coach Andy Landers said he would up late in his hotel room watching film to get ready for the Lady Tigers. It's pretty obvious what film he will be watching.
GAME NOTES: Bama coach Rick Moody finishes with a career record of 311-175. Moody has beaten LSU twice before in the tournament in 1993 and 1996. Coming into the tournament Bama's Krystle Johnson was 1-13 from behind the arc. She was 2-2 against LSU. Johnson, a junior, was a teammate of Lady Vol Sidney Spencer at Hoover High School in Hoover, Ala. She scored a career-high 16 points Friday. LSU was down four at the half, 29-25, its largest halftime deficit of the season. The Lady Tigers now have a 15-game winning streak. LSU's Seimone Augustus has scored double figures in a school-record 55 straight games.
GAME TWO: No. 2 seed Tennessee vs. No. 7 seed Auburn. RESULT: UT wins 64-54.
The Lady Vols survived their tourney opener and will play Vanderbilt tonight at 9:15 p.m.
Please see separate game story on the Front Page of this site.
GAME THREE: No. 4 seed Georgia vs. No. 5 seed Ole Miss. RESULT: Georgia wins, 87-65.
The Lady Bulldogs entered the tournament looking for consistent play. They found it in the second half. Ole Miss was within one, 40-39, at halftime, but Georgia built a 10-point lead with nine minutes to go and pulled away for good.
Landers said his team had three objectives: rebound, take care of the ball and score in transition. Georgia turned the ball over too much in the first half – 12 times – which led to roughly one-third of Ole Miss' first-half points. But by the 15-minute mark of the second half, Georgia was accomplishing all three and romping to victory.
Ole Miss coach Carol Ross was sorry the fun had to end for the Lady Rebels.
"Nobody wants to go home from this tournament," Ross said. "It's hard to say bye because everybody wants to hang around and play. We hung in there and fought, but never got the defensive rhythm that you need against great teams like this one. We didn't rebound. The completely took us apart on the backboards. Georgia played great defense, and they made great shots."
Georgia, 22-8, was concerned about Ole Miss sophomore Armintie Price. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year also leads Ole Miss with 16.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. She already had 916 career points entering the game and tacked on 21 more to close out SEC play for the season with 937. But 18 of those points came in the first half.
Landers said he told Georgia guard Cori Chambers before the game how he wanted her to guard Price.
"She didn't hear me," Landers said. "At the 15-minute mark (of the second half) I asked her again."
"I was always a step behind," Chambers said of her first-half defense that mostly meant chasing Price around the court. "You just have to guard her."
Price, who also had nine rebounds but only one in the second half, said, "They did a great job keeping me off the boards. I could not do what I did in the first half."
Ole Miss, 19-10, also got tired.
"It basically came down to who made more effort and who made the hustle plays," Ole Miss center Amber Watts said. "Georgia hustled more than we did. Georgia just had fresher bodies than we did."
Ross hopes the regular season record and a win in the first round of the tourney will get Ole Miss into the NCAA Tournament.
"I feel good about getting in because we have played well against and beat some great teams," Ross said. "I feel as good as anyone can feel before they hear their name called."
Georgia will next face LSU, a daunting task considering the Lady Tigers are the top team in the nation and probably a little cranky after the close call against Alabama.
"They're obviously just a very impressive basketball team," Landers said. "One of the really impressive things, just to see them walk on the floor, is their size combined with their athleticism. … They will be a basketball team that's extremely difficult to beat, but we've been in these situations before, and we've had some success. We will go into this game thinking and believing we can do that."
GAME NOTES: Ole Miss coach Carol Ross saw the onslaught coming from Georgia after the Lady Rebels gave up 40 points in the first 20 minutes. It was the second-highest total of the season since giving up 42 to Georgia on Jan. 6 and Texas Tech on Dec. 12. The total of 87 points surrendered was the third-highest of the season following 99 to Tennessee and 88 to Louisiana Tech. Ole Miss was one of the best rebounding teams in the conference this season but got smoked on the boards by Georgia, 45-27. Six Georgia players hit double figures in the game – Sherill Baker (17), Megan Darrah ( 14), Janese Hardrick (13), Cori Chambers (12), Tasha Humphrey (12) and Alexis Kendrick (11). Humphrey's 12 points gave her 27 games of double-digit scoring. The SEC Freshman of the Year averages nearly 19 points a game but only played two minutes in the first half after committing two early fouls. If the Lady Bulldogs score more than 80 points, the game is usually over. The school's overall record in those contests is 359-5.
GAME FOUR: No. 3 seed Vanderbilt vs. No. 11 seed Arkansas. RESULT: Vandy wins, 79-60.
Vanderbilt jumped out to a quick lead, but a scrappy Arkansas team hung tight until finally succumbing in the second half. The Commodores will next face bitter rival Tennessee in today's second semifinal game.
After opening up a 14-5 lead, Vanderbilt picked up tempo, which in this case, didn't work to their advantage. Arkansas took advantage of turnovers and quick shots to stay close and only trailed by two, 32-30 at halftime.
But the Commodores grew tired in the second half – which forced Vanderbilt to slow down and take better shots – and they began pulling away with nine minutes left and built an insurmountable lead. The margin of victory was deceiving, according to Arkansas coach Susie Gardner.
"It wasn't a 19-point game," Gardner said. "That's just the final score, but it wasn't a 19-point game."
Vandy, 22-6, was able to put Arkansas, 16-13, in its rear-view mirror by getting to the offensive boards (20 to Arkansas' seven) and hitting wide-open three-pointers (6-12 from long distance compared to 5-18 for Arkansas).
"Sometimes we do better in the second half," Vandy coach Melanie Balcomb said. "We tire, and we can't go as fast."
"I just go 100 miles per hour too much," said Vandy guard Dee Davis, who had 14 points and four assists but also five turnovers. "Coach tells us to slow down. Slowing down makes you stronger."
Vanderbilt was led by forward Ashley Earley, who had 21 points and 15 rebounds. Arkansas was led by guard Rochelle Vaughn, who had 20 points and five rebounds.
"The first half was terrible," Earley said. "We're mature enough at this part of the season to forget about the first half."
Vandy forward Carla Thomas also had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. She also had a scare in the first half when she came down on someone's foot and tweaked her left knee. After a checkup on the sideline, she returned to the game.
"They're big and strong," said Arkansas forward Sarah Pfeifer, who scored 16 points. "They play harder than anyone else in the country. They go after the ball."
The same could be said of Arkansas. Even though Vandy had the game in hand at the end, Arkansas players continue to chase after loose balls and didn't show any signs of quit.
"That's who we are this year," Gardner said. "We don't quit ever. That's something this team can build on. We're trying to build a culture, a personality at Arkansas. They're not quitters. We're going to fight to the bitter end, win or lose."
Vandy lived to fight another day and was able to rest some players at the end because of the comfortable lead.
"We'll probably find out (today)," Balcomb said when asked if that could help against Tennessee. "I haven't had time think about it. I'll be watching film all night."
WOUND TIGHT: For whatever reason – tight rims or maybe breezy drafts – shooting percentages have been abysmally low in some games. Tennessee survived despite shooting 28.4 percent against Auburn, which managed only 38.9 percent. Ole Miss won Thursday after shooting 27.9 percent.
"One more than I thought we would," Ole Miss coach Carol Ross replied when asked how many games she would have expected to win at the SEC Tournament with that low of a shooting percentage.
Several players have mentioned tight rims. With little give in the rims, the ball will take sharper instead of softer bounces. Also, when bands and teams arrive, a large door is opened for the unloading of equipment. The outside door, although several dozen yards away and blocked by a garage-style door, is still directly behind one of the baskets, and it's not unusual to have small wind gusts wafting into the arena.
The teams that played the late game tended to shoot a little better – perhaps because fewer teams were coming and going at that time.
The rims, though, did seem unforgiving. A lot of shots rattled in and out and a long-distance shot that drew a little too much iron would take a very harsh, and often very high, bounce. More than one player looked quizzically at the basket after watching a shot fall off that usually fell in.
Tennessee players watched the second half of the LSU-Alabama game from behind one of the baskets and noted the rims seemed tight.
NOT JUST YET: The "books" after each game not only provide a box score and play-by-play but a detailed team shot chart. Each team's shots are divided into percentage categories such as layups, putbacks, three-pointers and free throws. There's even a category for dunks, but that has remained at 0 percent throughout the tourney.
That could change next year when Tennessee redshirt freshman Candace Parker gets to play in her first SEC Tournament. Parker won the dunking contest at last year's McDonald's All-American Game while in high school. She has dunked several times recently at practice this year while taking a drop-step under the basket.
UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE DAY
Quote: "They have the long tall guards with the exception of Johnson." Spoken by: Georgia coach Andy Landers while discussing his upcoming game. Who he was talking about: LSU's Temeka Johnson, who is 5'3.