Four top seeds advance in women's tourney

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas – Four more teams bowed out Friday – Ole Miss, Auburn, Florida and Vanderbilt – and Saturday's semifinal matches were set. LSU and Tennessee showed why they are the top seeds, Kentucky made a statement about the state of Wildcat basketball, and Georgia played like a team wanting another shot at its orange rival. LSU faces Kentucky, and Tennessee takes on Georgia in the semifinal games Saturday. The winners meet Sunday for the 2006 SEC Women's Tournament trophy.

Here's a wrapup of Friday's games.

DAY TWO GAME ONE: LSU 91, Ole Miss 73

UP NEXT: No. 4 seed Kentucky, 7:30 p.m. Eastern Saturday

The LSU team was presented with the regular season trophy before its game against Ole Miss on Thursday. The Tigers then went out and played like they intend to win the 2006 SEC Women's Tournament, too.

No. 1 seed LSU (26-2) jumped out early on Ole Miss (16-13) with inside scoring by Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles and outside shooting by Scholanda Hoston. The big three for the No. 1 seed Tigers lived up to their billing with 30 for Augustus, the SEC Player of the Year; 21 for Fowles; and 14 for Hoston, who hit four three-pointers. Point guard Erica White had 10 assists by pushing tempo and feeding the ball to the firepower.

Ole Miss, a No. 8 seed, was playing its second game of the tournament after beating Arkansas and had no answer for the inside force of LSU. LSU out-rebounded Ole Miss 53-30 (a season high for LSU) and out-scored the Lady Rebels in the paint, 58-22.

The Lady Rebels were putting points on the board – they hit four out of eight three-pointers in the first half for 50 percent – but LSU was doing so in even bigger fashion. The Tigers hits 5-6 from long range (83.3 percent) in the first 20 minutes, and the halftime score was 55-36.

Ole Miss started the second half on a mini-run to cut the lead to 63-49 at the 15:39 mark. That led LSU coach Pokey Chatman to call timeout, which was followed immediately by an Augustus short jumper in the lane.

LSU surged ahead, never trailed by less than 16 points and went on to win, 91-73.

"When you play teams that are better than you on paper, maybe better than you in a lot of areas, you have to find ways to take their strength away," Ole Miss coach Carol Ross said. "If you pick up the stat sheet, you will see that their strengths all along were their strengths again today.

"They got big games out of Augustus and Fowles, and they just killed us on the boards. If you get out-rebounded by 23, it really doesn't matter who you play; you're going to get beat. If you play a team like LSU, they're going to beat you pretty bad."

Ole Miss picked up the pace against LSU in the first half – Ross said she wanted to change her game plan and try to win, not play to keep the score close and still lose – and forced 12 turnovers by LSU. When asked what she told her team at halftime to cut down on turnovers, Chatman said, "I said, ‘Cut down on the amount of turnovers we had.'

"No, it was one of those things where I thought Ole Miss might want to go to a press to get us out of rhythm. Then we gift-wrapped it for them, and they stayed in it for several possessions. I wanted them to be aware of what role we played in it, what role Ole Miss played in it, and be more attack mode – couple ball reversals, the gaps get bigger, attack and punish people for wanting to apply pressure to you, to understand that we control that."

LSU was definitely in control. The only thing Augustus couldn't do was break her coach's single-game school scoring record in the SEC tourney. Chatman and Augustus are now tied at 30 points after Augustus came out of the game with LSU well ahead.

"Honestly, I didn't know I had any records left to break," Chatman said. "The hope is to continue playing, getting some fresh legs under some people. It does seem like a pretty smooth move on my part."

"I think she took me out on purpose. Coach is a very competitive person," Augustus said to laughter. "No, I'm just kidding. I'm just glad to be in that company with coach. She set the standards for LSU basketball."

Ross, when asked for her thoughts on Augustus, said if she weren't coaching against LSU, she would enjoy watching her play.

"Well, the best thing about her is she's a senior. After that, she's not a bad offensive player either," Ross said tongue in cheek. " … She's graceful, she's poised, and she plays hard, but she does it so gracefully that sometimes that gets overlooked.

"She runs the floor hard; she takes great shots. She's just very composed and selective, which great players are. She makes everybody else around her better, too. She is the best player in the country. You know, if you're not coaching against her it's a real treat just to watch somebody with her ability play, and she does it with so much grace. It's just really a beautiful thing to see unless you're sitting on the other bench."

As usual, Ole Miss was led by junior guard Armintie Price, who finished with 23 points, six rebounds and four assists. Junior guard Ashley Awkward had a career-high 19 points, five boards and five assists. Senior guard Ashley Johnson had 17 points – 15 of which came on three-pointers – and four assists.

Price, one of the league's best rebounders, is undersized in all but effort.

"I can't even imagine that anybody can't appreciate the things that a 130-pound, 5'9 player does," Ross said. "She plays the game with such effort and does things that people her size shouldn't be able to do just because of her will to compete, her excitement to play in games like this. She leaves it on the court. When the game's over, she can always feel pretty good about things because there's nothing left."

GAME TWO:Tennessee 77, Auburn 45

UP NEXT: No. 3 seed Georgia, 9:50 p.m. Eastern Saturday

See separate game story on Front Page of this site.

GAME THREE: Kentucky 88, Florida 70

UP NEXT: No. 1 seed LSU, 7:30 p.m. Eastern Saturday

Kentucky and Florida were meeting for the third time this season but for only the first time in the SEC tourney in 16 years. Florida won that first round game in 1990. On Friday, Kentucky won a second round contest, 88-70, to solidify a remarkable turnaround in Wildcat women's basketball.

Kentucky (21-7) had a first-round bye this year for the first time since 1991. Coming into this game the Wildcats were 15-26 all-time in tourney play. The 16th win got them a spot in the semifinals for the first time since 1999. Kentucky was a semifinal team for three straight years in 1980, 1981 and 1982, and then didn't make an appearance again in the SEC final four slots until 1992. But coach Mickie DeMoss, in only her third year after a longtime tenure at Tennessee as an assistant, has turned around the program.

"Feels good to be in this position," DeMoss said. "This team is very deserving to be in this position."

"I thought tonight we came out, and we stuck to our game plan, had an attack mentality," DeMoss said. "It was a very physical game. I thought that we rose to the occasion. Just very proud of the way we maintained our poise down the stretch."

No. 4 seed Kentucky pushed the pace against the Gators and applied its own full-court pressure. The Wildcats also nailed their first half-threes – they hit six of 12 while Florida was missing all of its six attempts – and some of those buckets came in transition after a missed Florida basket when the Gators didn't get back on defense.

Kentucky was the higher seed, but the game – or at least the wide margin of victory – had an upset feel to it because No. 5 seed Florida (21-8) had recently beaten LSU and Tennessee. On Friday the Gators were playing their second game in a row – they essentially use six players – after beating Mississippi State to get to the second round. Florida was scoring a lot of points in its victories, but it also was giving up a lot of points.

"That was part of it," DeMoss said when asked if the quick pace at the beginning was designed to try to get Florida fatigued from the beginning. "After watching our film from both games I felt like our zone press bothered them. … I just felt like on top of the fact they played yesterday, we wanted to take advantage of that. Also I felt like they weren't really thrilled about being pressed."

Florida coach Carolyn Peck complimented Kentucky for the game strategy.

"You have to compliment Kentucky because they came in, and they came at us and attacked, understanding we played a game yesterday," Peck said. "We had a game under us, and they were fresh out of the blocks."

"I am proud of what our team has accomplished this year. Am I satisfied? No."

Florida will lose four senior starters in Brittany Davis, Dalila Eshe, Sarah Lowe and Danielle Santos, so it was a good sign that the top performer Friday was freshman guard Sha Brooks, who had 22 points – she hit the team's only two 3-pointers – and four rebounds. Davis, a forward, struggled from the field – she was 1-13 – and finished with seven points. Guards Lowe and Santos were in double figures with 10 and 11 points, respectively. Florida shot poorly from the field, especially from long range with two makes and 18 misses, or 11.1 percent.

Kentucky had a pair of 20-point scorers in center Sarah Elliott and guard Samantha Mahoney. The Wildcats had two double-figure scorers off the bench in Natassia Alcius (13) and Jenny Pfeiffer (11). Kentucky shot 53.3 percent from behind the arc (8-15) and 56.7 percent for the game. The Wildcats got 40 points in paint and a total of 32 points from the bench compared to 11 from Florida's reserves.

Next, Kentucky has to get ready to face LSU, which lived up to its No. 1 seed and wants to place a tourney trophy beside the regular season one.

"You had to bring that up, didn't you?" DeMoss said to laughter. "No, actually we're looking forward to the challenge. We played them in December (a 66-36 LSU win). We've learned a lot. We've grown a lot. We've matured. We're looking forward to the opportunity. We have the utmost respect for LSU, but we're certainly not fearful of LSU. … I think we've got to beat them as a team. I think we've improved as a team. It's five of them and five of us. Again, we have the utmost respect for LSU, but we're excited about having another chance to play them."

Tennessee's three assistant coaches watched the Kentucky-Florida game from press row for scouting purposes, because if the Lady Vols get past Georgia, they would now play the winner of Kentucky-LSU. The assistants had a long night as they also stayed to scout the Georgia-Vanderbilt game.

GAME FOUR: Georgia 69, Vanderbilt 47

UP NEXT: No. 2 seed Tennessee, 9:50 p.m. Eastern Saturday

Georgia (21-7) was the last top seed to get into semifinal play and assured that all four top seeds will play on Saturday. The No. 3 seed eliminated No. 6 seed Vanderbilt (20-10) in a game that was over early.

The win was all the more impressive because Georgia did it with very little offensive help from sophomore forward Tasha Humphrey. She was 3-12 from the field and finished with six points. She did have 11 rebounds and one assist in which she was falling out of bounds but delivered a pass to a Georgia player on the perimeter for a three-pointer.

Georgia's scoring came from guards Sherill Baker, who had 27 points, and Cori Chambers, who had 20, and received Humphrey's perfect pass in what Georgia coach Andy Landers called a "big-time" play by the big forward. The Lady Bulldogs hit nine three-pointers for the game and had forged a 20-point lead at halftime, 43-23.

Vanderbilt was led by forward Carla Thomas, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and center Liz Sherwood, who added 11 points and five boards off the bench. The Commodores usually get scoring from behind the arc, but were only 2-18 (11.1 percent) with the two makes coming from Cherish Stringfield and Jennifer Risper. Sharpshooter Caroline Williams was 0-8 from the field and missed all seven three-point attempts.

One game after Vandy had 32 assists and 10 turnovers against South Carolina, the Commodores logged 16 turnovers to only 12 assists.

"I think the big thing tonight was our mentality," Vandy coach Melanie Balcomb said. "You know, we turned the ball over probably the first five times out of eight possessions we got it. And then it really affected us, affected our shots. We let it affect everything that we did, very similar to when we played at home against Georgia. We missed shots, turned the ball over, gave them easy baskets, then put our heads down. What's disappointing is the mentality that we weren't able to get out of."

Balcomb said the quickness of Georgia's guards was difficult to overcome.

"It's tough because, you know, this is a very athletic team," Balcomb said. "I think their guards – obviously their backcourt has great experience and great athleticism, probably the quickest in the country. They've played man for three years, and now they're playing a zone. I know from playing it last time and watching it on film, they probably play a zone better than they do man because they really can get in the passing lanes and create havoc.

"If you have young guards that are telegraphing passes, then they also get up and pressure you. If you don't protect the basketball, you pick it up, then you pass the ball away. … I think we had a lot of guards not handle the pressure on the perimeter because of what they create defensively. They create a lot of havoc on the basketball and in passing lanes."

Landers said the pace and tenor of the game suited Georgia.

"Defensively, thought we did a good job with the press, not necessarily in forcing turnovers, but in controlling tempo," Lander said. "I thought we did a good job in the half court of keeping the ball out of the high post.

"Vanderbilt is really, really good – really good. I just love watching them play. … They're so disciplined, they're so skilled, and they run their stuff, they do a great job with it. I thought we did a great job of keeping it out of the high post, then getting to the three-point shooters. So defensively we were good. Offensively, we were able to turn 'em a couple of times. We were able to rebound the ball. Cori had seven rebounds at the half. We were able to rebound the ball well and get it out and run some. You know, I think that's what our kids enjoyed doing the most."

Georgia will next play its rival Tennessee. Landers, who was in the post-game press conference with Baker and Chambers, reminded them to stay focused and said he looked forward to a rematch.

"It's going to be interesting," Landers said. "Our players need to understand it. Sherill and Cori, this is something I didn't say to the team after the game, that they need to go back and stress very clearly to our team, this will be a challenge for us because generally after we play a Sunday game, we're off on Monday. After we play a Thursday game, we do very little on Friday.

"We've got to be mentally very, very tough the rest of the week. It was important to us that we could rest and take care of ourselves. That's something else that I should compliment our basketball team on. We were off day before yesterday. We did very little yesterday. We did very little today in shoot-around. Any time you take a team out of a routine, a coach worries about that. For them to be able to come out, tip it up and go hard, as if we had been in a routine, impressed me a great deal tonight.

"But we're going to be challenged the next couple days."

TOURNAMENT ODDS AND ENDS

FIRST BASKET: Once again the first basket of the day was a free throw. Ole Miss' Armintie Price hit a free throw to start the tournament Thursday, and the first point of the day Friday was a free throw by LSU's Seimone Augustus.

BEST ENCROACHMENT: LSU's band. During pregame when Ole Miss' band was playing a piece with intermittent pauses, the LSU band members used the split-second stops to shout out one letter at a time "T-I-G-E-R-S" and then "TIGERS!"

AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION: While the national anthem was being performed, the LSU fans had their own props. When the singer got to line about rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air, the fans released some mini-firework type devices – minus the explosive – that popped in the air.

FIRST WOW MOMENT: Provided by Sylvia Fowles of LSU. She went up under the basket and had the ball deflected away by a defender. Fowles retrieved it while still in the air, came down and went right back up for the layup.

BEST HOSPITALITY: Carolyn Peck. The Florida coach was scouting on the sideline, as was Kentucky assistant coach Niya Butts. Kentucky and Florida played the third game Friday with the winner facing the winner of LSU-Ole Miss so they had to scout both possible opponents. Peck was carrying popcorn and potato chips and stopped to give some to Butts.

MORE LOVE: Butts' next visitor a few minutes later was Tennessee assistant coach Nikki Caldwell who, with assistant coach Dean Lockwood, also was scouting in the event Tennessee gets to play someone from that side of the bracket in the title game Sunday. Caldwell sat down beside Butts, who played for the Lady Vols from 1996 to 2000.

EVEN MORE LOVE: Next for Butts and Caldwell was former Lady Vol Carla McGhee, who stopped to say hello before heading to her press row seat, where she was providing radio commentary for Auburn. McGhee is an assistant coach at Auburn but had surgery that requires extended rest so she has taken a leave of absence from the sidelines. McGhee came back at halftime for hugs and conversation with Butts and Caldwell.

BEST LOVE: That felt for the late Sue Gunter. The legendary coach at LSU, who died last summer, was remembered at halftime as part of the SEC Greats Program. The fans, no matter which school colors they had on, applauded and many rose to their feet to do so.

MOST HUGS: Those shared among the coaching staffs of Kentucky and Florida before their game tipped off. Kentucky coach Mickie DeMoss was an assistant at Tennessee at the same time Florida coach Carolyn Peck was on the staff for the Lady Vols. Moss also was head coach at Florida before going to Tennessee. When Peck left Tennessee, she went to Kentucky to serve as an assistant coach before joining the staff at Purdue. Current Kentucky assistant Pam Stackhouse also was at Purdue with Peck.

BEST SIGN: Held up by a Kentucky fan. "DeMoss DeBest." The reception that DeMoss gets when she takes the floor is similar to the Summitt sensation. The Wildcat fans roar as she comes out of the tunnel.

BEST NON-CREDITED ASSIST: To a member of the arena staff. A Florida jump shot got wedged against the rim and the glass, but then a timeout was called so nobody who could jump up and clear the ball was left on the floor. The staff member got a broom handle and poked it free and through the basket to applause from the fans.

BEST POST FAKE: By Kentucky's Eleia Roddy. She uncorked about three moves on Florida's Brittany Davis and finally left her flat-footed with a head fake and reverse for the layup. Davis appealed for a travel, but it appeared to just be a sweet move.

MOST-SUCCESSFUL CROWD CHANT: "We want Stumbo." It was shouted by Kentucky's fan section, the cheerleaders and band members. They were referring to Stephanie Stumbo, a senior forward and former walk-on now on scholarship who went to Hoover High School in Alabama (same school as UT's Sidney Spencer). It worked. With 19.3 seconds remaining in the win over Florida, Stumbo checked in.

BAND PARTICIPATION: Georgia. While Vanderbilt's players were warming up pregame, the band members offered commentary and chants for each errant shot from the singsong "You missed a layup. You missed a layup," to the shouted "BRICK!"

LAMEST CHEER: Georgia's cheerleaders. "U-G-A. U-G-A." That's all they said.

STILL LAME SECONDS LATER: "U-G-A. Go. U-G-A. Go." The additional word didn't help.

A SMIDGEN BETTER: "U-G-A. Go. Woof. Woof." The simulated dog noise helped a little.

LITTLE SMACK TALK: "Y'all's team's sorry." A young Georgia fan to the Vanderbilt cheerleaders when they performed at center court. The boy, who looked to be about 12 to 14 years old, was mouthy but basketball savvy. He called out the Lady Bulldogs' switches, screens and traps – or at least when he thought they should switch or set them – and offered pretty much nonstop commentary from his front row seat. He seemed particularly interested in making sure guard Sherill Baker was set up correctly in the offense and kept shouting instructions to "Number Eleven." Baker wears No. 11. By the end of the game he was in love – his words – with Georgia guard Cori Chambers.


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