Top four seeds advance at SEC tourney

DULUTH, Ga. – The top four seeds – Tennessee, Georgia, Vanderbilt and LSU – all advanced Friday and will pair off Saturday for the right to play for the tournament championship. The day began with the Lady Vols accepting their regular season championship trophy and ended with Coach Carolyn Peck bowing out at Florida.

GAME ONE: No. 1 seed Tennessee vs. No. 8 seed South Carolina

WINNER: Tennessee, 81-63 NEXT: No. 4 seed LSU, 6:45 p.m.

See separate game story on Front Page.

GAME TWO: No. 2 seed Georgia vs. No. 7 seed Kentucky

WINNER: Georgia, 72-40 NEXT: No. 3 seed Vanderbilt, 9:15 p.m.

Georgia got off to a quick start, Kentucky took eight minutes to score, and the Lady Bulldogs were never threatened in their second round match. Four Georgia players scored in double figures, while Kentucky set a season low for field goals with 12, which was also an SEC tourney record, beating the previous low of 14 field goals set three times at the tourney.

The Wildcats shot 20 percent for the game (12-60) and hit only two of 21 three-point attempts. Carly Ormerod scored 14 points for Kentucky, 18-13, but nobody else could generate offense. Jennifer Humphrey had zero points and Sarah Elliott had four.

"They shut down a lot of our scorers," Kentucky Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "We didn't have our big scorers step up for us. … I thought they were bodying us up pretty good on the inside. We were able to get it in there, just couldn't finish. They were helping in, pinching in some from the corners, helping with the guards. Our guards couldn't knock down shots when they were open."

Georgia was led by Angel Robinson with 15 points; Tasha Humphrey with 14; Ashley Houts with 12; and Janese Hardrick with 10.

"I thought our basketball team was very good today on both ends of the floor," Georgia Coach Andy Landers said. "I was particularly impressed with their ability to focus on what it was we wanted to do and how we wanted to accomplish that on the defensive end and then just stay with it for 40 minutes."

Georgia led 38-18 at halftime in a game that was never close. The outcome was somewhat of a surprise because the teams had gone to overtime when they last played Feb. 15 in a game Georgia won, 82-72.

"We just came in with that mentality that nobody's going to stop us but ourselves," Humphrey said. "We played great on both ends of the floor. I think our guards did a great job of getting us the ball, and we did a great job finishing it."

Georgia, 25-5, is playing in its home state, and the Bulldogs had a decent crowd for their game, but Saturday's semifinal should bring in even more fans.

"I think (the 3:30 tip) is a tough time for people unless they're rich or homeless," Landers said. "They've got to go to work. That will get better as we move forward. Certainly people today were a big support for us."

Landers was in his usual humorous form. A writer noted Kentucky's 20 percent shooting – a tournament low – and asked how Georgia limited the Wildcats' looks at the basket. Landers launched into a detailed answer about strategy such as ball screens, stepping out with post players, baseline drive defense, guarding the high-low and pushing out the four-spot player.

"Getting all this?" Landers said. "You're not writing anything down now. You wanted to know this."

Landers then talked about stagger screens, beating the guard to the first screen, not getting behind screens, screens at the elbow and switching.

"Anything else?" Landers asked. "I'm going to put all that on a disc and I want you to buy it."

GAME THREE: No. 4 seed LSU vs. No. 5 seed Ole Miss

WINNER: LSU, 52-46 NEXT: No. 1 seed Tennessee, 6:45 p.m.

Ole Miss and LSU provided the first suspenseful game of Friday's second round action and it stayed that way until the final seconds. The Lady Tigers started the second half with a burst and built a seemingly insurmountable 18-point lead, but the Rebels managed to stay within striking distance, and then started a late run of their own.

They got a lot of encouragement from the Tennessee fans in attendance, who had remained mostly neutral but roared with the Rebels' fans during the second-half comeback.

When Ole Miss cut the lead to one, 42-41, LSU Coach Pokey Chatman called a timeout at the 6:26 mark. The Tennessee fans stood and applauded the Rebels as they ran to their bench. Ole Miss managed to tie the game, 46-46, with 1:12 to play.

But LSU, 25-6, made some key defensive stands and found enough offense down the stretch to preserve the win, 52-46.

"I'll start with obviously what won this basketball game for us," Chatman said. "It's our defensive prowess, and that's why these two young ladies (Erica White and Rashonta LeBlanc) are sitting up here next to me. Oftentimes that goes unnoticed when you have a game of runs and one team is up 18 and it's a 16-2 run."

The team that went on the run was Ole Miss. The Rebels wiped out an 18-point deficit when the score was 35-17 in LSU's favor with 18:30 left in the game.

"You know I wouldn't trade how we played that last 20 minutes for anything because it's really the team we are. How they competed, how they fought, just kept finding ways. That's been the trademark of this team really all year long. That's why we've been able to do things that people say we couldn't do. It's because of their tenacity, their scrap, their passion.

"LSU, you have to give them a lot of credit. Defensively they were very good. It was very difficult for us to get any good looks. Certainly the ones we got, we didn't hit enough of 'em. It was just a good, hard-fought game."

Ole Miss, 21-10, was led by Armintie Price with 12 points and Ashley Awkward and Alliesha Easley, who both had 10 points. Price also had 11 rebounds, three steals and a block.

LSU was led inside by Sylvia Fowles, who had 11 points. Fowles took a hard fall at the end of the game and landed on her shoulder, but Chatman said the center was fine. White was the game's high scorer with 17 points.

Chatman called White's offensive output "huge," especially the two free throws she hit to put LSU up 48-46 with 48 seconds left.

"She stepped her there," Chatman said. "She wanted to take them."

Ole Miss will return to Oxford and wait to hear of their postseason seeding and destination. Ross has low expectations.

"Seeding, based on my experiences, I'm sure we're not going to get a fair seed in terms of what we're capable of versus maybe out record," Ross said. "The upside of this team is pretty good. We've shown that by beating LSU, Vanderbilt earlier (in the regular season). But at the same time, we've lost some games that are regretful for sure."

Ross reckoned the Rebels deserved a five or six seed in the NCAA tourney, "but I'm sure they're going to send me a letter saying it's probably seven, eight or nine. But it doesn't matter. We'll play. Can't control those people. I've tried for years. Doesn't work."

LSU will return to the team hotel and begin preparations for Tennessee. It's a game that matters for seeding, an SEC title shot and a measuring stick.

"Everything," Chatman said. "It's that time of year. It's a great opponent that can test you in ways that will tell you the most about your team going into the third season, which is the NCAA Tournament.

"We've always had battles with Tennessee. There won't be any secrets. The scout is out on us and them. It's a matter of who can dig in their heels and get it done."

GAME FOUR: No. 3 seed Vanderbilt vs. No. 11 seed Florida

WINNER:Vanderbilt, 105-77 NEXT: No. 2 seed Georgia, 9:15 p.m.

Carolyn Peck didn't go out at Florida without a fight. She picked up a technical foul protesting a call in the first half with her team down 48-29 in the first half. When a subsequent foul call again went against Florida, she walked to the end of the bench, sat down for a split second and then walked the length of the bench to talk to a different official.

The Gators gave a game effort, but Vanderbilt had too much offense – 54 points in the first half alone – and Florida played its last game with Peck on the sidelines.

Nearly 6,000 fans attended the evening session of Friday's tourney slate but that number had been reduced to a few hundred by the time the game ended. Most were Vandy fans, but some Florida fans stuck it out, too, and of course, Tennessee fans were scattered about the arena.

Peck broke down in her post-game press conference and had to wait a few seconds before she was able to make an opening statement. She brought her two seniors, Briana Phillips and Kim Dye, to the press conference.

"It's been a privilege and an honor to work with these young women," Peck said. "These two young women have stayed committed and loyal and shown a great deal of determination. … And the returning players, they've got quite a core group now because we cleaned up a lot of good stuff, and there's a lot of good stuff that's going to be there at Florida when I leave."

Peck didn't hold back her emotions at the press conference and she indicated that whoever took the job next would be left with a lot in the cupboard.

"These two women that are sitting here, the ones that are in that locker room, are quality people, and they have just demonstrated, as in yesterday (against Mississippi State), the kind of heart that you've got to have to compete," Peck said. "There will be seven (returning players). Got five good ones coming in next year. So I think that it's now in a position to where it can grow."

Florida, 9-22, was led by Marshae Dotson with 20 points and nine rebounds. Sha Brooks had 17 points, and Phillips added 11 to go with six boards. Dye finished with nine points.

Vanderbilt, 25-5, had five players in double figures in Christina Wirth with 19 points, including a career-high five three-pointers; Carla Thomas, 16, Caroline Williams, 16; Dee Davis, 15; and Jessica Mooney, 11.

The Commodores shot 66 percent from the field and hit 11-15 three-pointers for 73.3 percent accuracy behind the arc.

"I think when you score a lot of points people are impressed," Vandy Coach Melanie Balcomb said. "I think one of the things we were disappointed with tonight was our defense, cutting off the drive and checking out – two of the things we'd better bring tomorrow.

"But overall I liked our effort and I liked our unselfishness. Obviously I like when we shoot the ball that well."

Twelve players logged minutes for Vandy and nine of those tallied at least one assist for a team total of 19. The offense came from everywhere, too, with 11 of the 12 players scoring.

"When we hit a couple of shots I think it gets contagious with all of us," Williams said. "It happened tonight. We hit a couple of threes. Tina hit some threes. Everyone starts feeling it. I think we're confident. We attribute that to practicing hard and shooting a lot in practice."

The Commodores will play Georgia in the late game Saturday with the winner playing for the tourney championship on Sunday. Balcomb liked the offensive display Friday, but she wants more on the other side of the ball against the Lady Bulldogs.

"I think we're going to have to do a much better job defensively and take them out of what they want to do," Balcomb said. "We're going to have to dictate more on defense."


CAROL'S COURT: The four ladies have become stars. Fans come by to take their photos and pose for pictures with them. On Friday they had on the same attire as Thursday but this time wore white-framed sunglasses as they took their seats. They switched to the black frames for the game.

LSU COSTUMES: LSU fans also like to dress up. There were purple feather boas, capes, cowboy hats, face paint, camouflage (though purple defeats the purpose) and beads scattered among one rowdy section. Two other fans in the section really stood out, though – they were wearing bright orange Tennessee pullovers.

DEVOTED FANS: A group at center court cheering for Florida. They wore T-shirts bearing a heart and then four shirts that spelled out P-E-C-K in support of Carolyn Peck, who was fired last month and was coaching the Gators for the final time in the SEC tourney.

WORST OBSESSION: The Vandy band with Pat Summitt. They kept a poster nearby with a photo of Summitt that compares her to some creature.

LOUDEST CHEER BASED ON CROWD SIZE: When Vandy's Meredith Marsh hit a three-pointer to put the Commodores over 100 points for the game. This was the first time since 1998 that a team scored more than 100 points in the tourney. The last time was when Tennessee beat Vanderbilt, 106-45.

BEST LATE SPIRIT: Florida's band chanting air ball when a Vandy player missed a shot with seconds left in the game.

BEST RETORT: Vandy band with chants of scoreboard, scoreboard.

BEST TOTAL FAN SUPPORT: That given to Carolyn Peck. She was cheered as she left the court by Florida's fans and those clad in the colors of other schools.

BEST LAUGH: Peck when she was asked if she got a technical foul because of something she said (since that is usually how it happens). When asked if she could repeat it, Peck smiled and said, "No, my mom's here." She characterized it as having "some confusion of how things were being called. I was trying to get some clarification."

BEST ANSWER: Peck when she was asked about her future plans. "As far as where I'm going, I'm going back to Gainesville with my team."

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