SEC coaches talk hoops

The SEC basketball coaches held their media teleconference this week and although Auburn was declared the favorite in Little Rock by virtue of outlasting the other teams in the regular season, the tournament title is there for the plucking with several teams hoping to stake a claim to the crown.

Teams are also looking for either "seeds" or "security" in the NCAA draw, as one coach aptly put it Monday. All 12 league coaches shared their thoughts in advance of the 2009 SEC Women's Basketball Tournament, which tips off Thursday in Arkansas at noon local time when Ole Miss and Arkansas square off in Alltel Arena. Fox Sports Net-South/Southwest/SUN Sports is airing the first three days of the tourney with ESPN2 picking up Sunday's final.

ALABAMA COACH WENDELL HUDSON

No. 12 seed Alabama (13-16, 1-13) faces No. 5 seed Tennessee (20-9, 9-5), on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

The Crimson Tide got one league win this season and lost 80-61 in its game against Tennessee in Knoxville on Feb. 12, but Coach Wendell Hudson has Alabama playing better this season and has improved on last season's 8-22 record.

"I think what my team has done so far for the most part during the season we played hard, and that's what I would expect the team to continue to do is keep giving that maximum effort," Hudson said. "Of course in this league you've got to give that and you've got to hope things kind of fall the right way. Really what we need to do is keep giving maximum effort and shoot the ball a little better."

Hudson, who played for the Crimson Tide, has extensive roots in the SEC. This is his first season as head coach of the women's team. Alabama has been more competitive this season – the Crimson Tide played Auburn closely until midway through the second half – and Hudson saw improvement from beginning to end.

"We learned how to play and won some games before the conference got started that we needed to win," Hudson said. "We played awful hard against the conference foes. As far as the strides this team has made, under the circumstances, I've been real happy with them."

The Crimson Tide got its one conference win against Ole Miss on Feb. 19.

"It was real important, especially as late as we got that win in the season," Hudson said. "That meant that the team was still playing hard, still trying to do what we were asking them to do and still giving that maximum effort because we're not as talented as we would like to be, and we have to give that maximum effort to have an opportunity to win games."

Alabama will face a Tennessee team that is playing on the first day of the league tournament for the first time since 1997.

"I love tournament play myself because that one shot in and out … just try out different things and see what might happen," Hudson said.

ARKANSAS COACH TOM COLLEN

No. 8 seed Arkansas (17-12, 6-8) faces No. 9 seed Ole Miss (16-13, 5-9), on Thursday at 1 p.m. Eastern.

The tourney is in the Razorbacks' home state for the first time since 2006 after stops in Duluth, Ga., and Nashville, Tenn.

"It's an exciting thing for us," said Tom Collen, who was an assistant at Arkansas from 1993 to 1997 and is in his second year as head coach. "I can remember the great crowds that came into Chattanooga from Vanderbilt and from Tennessee and I always felt like it gave those teams a nice advantage and certainly those teams were always on top of their games."

The last time the tourney was in Little Rock, Arkansas lost on the first day to Ole Miss. Collen hopes to reverse that Thursday.

"Arkansas hasn't won a lot of games in the SEC Tournament, hasn't quite established the tradition some of the other schools have," Collen said. "So when you get the opportunity to have the tournament in your home state you certainly want to play well in front of your home fans. You want everybody in your state to be excited about your program. We're clearly in the building process, and I think we've made a lot of strides in the last two years, but we're not quite where we want to be.

"But I think we're better than we were and I think we're good enough to go down and win a game down there. And anytime you win one you've got an opportunity to play again. We'd love to have that opportunity, and I think it's important to our kids to go down there and play well for our home state."

Arkansas closed out strong in conference play – and greatly improved on last season's 2-12 conference slate – but lost its final regular season at Auburn, which clinched the conference crown on Sunday with the win.

"We had a lot of momentum going in the month of February," Collen said. "We had some great road wins at Florida and Georgia. Hopefully our effort against Auburn in the last game of the season isn't something that's going to thwart that momentum.

"I think we played awfully well down the stretch, and we just ran into a bit of a bust at Auburn. We were kind of their SEC championship celebration feast and so our effort was pretty disappointing down there but to Auburn's credit they've worked hard and clearly have earned the championship the hard way. Hopefully we'll be able to rebound from that … and hopefully they'll be a nice crowd down there, and we'll play well."

AUBURN COACH NELL FORTNER

No. 1 seed Auburn (27-2, 12-2) has a first-round bye and will face the winner of the Arkansas-Ole Miss game on Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Auburn clinched the crown on Sunday with the win over Arkansas. It was the first regular season title for the Tigers since the 1988-89 season.

"We're really excited and proud of winning the SEC this year," Nell Fortner said. "It's a special opportunity for our seniors. It was our first recruiting class when we took the job at Auburn so it's very nice to see their goals start coming true this year. … This is a special group of four seniors. It was a big day for us, and we're looking forward to going to the SEC Tournament and seeing what we can accomplish there."

The Tigers come to Little Rock with the target on their back this season – that has been affixed for the past few years to Tennessee and LSU – by virtue of surviving the SEC regular season. It is the first time in SEC history that a two-loss team won the overall conference title. (The SEC used East/West division play from 1982 to 1985 and will return to that format next season.) In the last 23 years the winner went undefeated in league play 15 times with the other eight champions recording just one loss.

"I think we do feel as comfortable as we've ever felt in this group's four years at Auburn because we went undefeated for the first 20 games of the season so we've had a target on our back for most of the season and then in the conference race we were pretty much in the driver's seat for the majority of the conference season," Fortner said. "So we've been in that position all season long I guess is what I'm trying to say, so I don't think it's going to feel uncomfortable for us in the tournament.

"I think there are many teams that could step up and win the SEC Tournament. I think there are some teams that are playing very well right now and when you get into that setting, anything can happen. It's a tough, tough tournament, and it's an exciting tournament and we're going to go there just like everybody else with a desire to win it, and we'll see what happens."

FLORIDA COACH AMANDA BUTLER

No. 4 seed Florida (23-6, 9-5) has a first-round bye and will face the winner of the Alabama-Tennessee game on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

"Obviously we're very excited to be in one of those top four spots and being able to have earned ourselves a bye," Amanda Butler said. "I think that's crucial. I've got so much respect for everybody in the league and the level of competition … and not having to play on that first night is a big break, and I'm just really proud of our team for working hard not to put us in that position, and I'm really hoping that we can maximize the opportunity."

Florida is led by senior guard Sha Brooks, who is from Jackson, Tenn., and has often put on spectacular performances in matchups against Tennessee.

"As a player what stands out about her is her level of play just really elevates the bigger the game and the implications of the game, and I think that's really special," Butler said. "The pressure or the challenge she just tightens up her laces and seems to go to another level and wants to be the one with the ball in her hands and wants to be the one who makes the play. As a person what makes her special there are a lot of different things because she really is a joy to be around whether on the practice court or the playing court.

"She's a really bright kid. She's got a great sense of humor. We're both Tennessee home girls," added Butler, who is from Mt. Juliet, "and so we have that special bond. But I just really appreciate how likable she is, how hard she works. She's one of those kids on a team that no one else on the team ever has a problem with. She's very easy to be around, and she's got a lot of pride in being a Gator, which is something I really, really appreciate."

Florida beat Tennessee, 66-57, in the regular season matchup in Gainesville and then went 1-4 in its last five games, including three consecutive defeats after the win over the Lady Vols.

"We played some really good teams, and we played some really good teams on their home floors," Butler said. "That's the toughest thing that we do in this league during regular season play is go to each other's home courts and try to steal a win. … Is there one thing we can pinpoint? I think we can play better defense. There is not any question about that. In all of those losses we gave up way, way, way too many points, but at the same time I think it's just a credit to our league how strong everyone is and especially when they're playing at home, and I think the coaching is fantastic in our league. Obviously the talent is great in our league and when you get to February and the SEC you're going to see great talent and great coaching combined, and nobody is going to have an easy win.

"We've got a lot of things we need to correct before we get to Arkansas for the tournament, but the competition and the intensity of every single ball game just increases significantly with every regular season game, and we ran up against some teams that were really, really ready to play and really took very seriously home court advantage."

GEORGIA COACH ANDY LANDERS

No. 7 seed Georgia (18-12, 7-7) faces No. 10 seed Kentucky (15-14, 5-9), on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

The Lady Bulldogs lost at Tennessee – it was Pat Summitt's career 1,000th win – and that touched off a losing streak that Andy Landers had never experienced at Georgia when it hit four and then five games. Georgia won its last two SEC games to get to .500 in league play and keep its slim NCAA hopes alive, short of winning the automatic bid in Little Rock.

"Our basketball team is excited," Landers said. "We're coming off of a couple of solid wins, one on the road (against Kentucky) and one at home (against Florida). We're not completely healthy, but we're as healthy as we've been since Christmas, so we're excited about those two things and of course the opportunity to play in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, understanding or believing that this has been a year on any given night where any team could win a game.

"We're looking forward to what promises to be a very exciting tournament."

The Lady Bulldogs do enter the tourney with some momentum thanks to those last two wins, and Georgia needs some success this week to make the field of 64.

"I think it's a huge weekend for everyone in the league," Landers said. "I think those teams that are in – that know that they're in – are playing for seeds, and those that feel like they are on the bubble are playing for some security. So I certainly think it's a big weekend, not only for us but for everyone else involved."

Landers said his focus with his team would not be on an NCAA bid.

"From my perspective it's about winning a game," Landers said. "I don't think we should get distracted or split our concentration along two or three different subjects or try to hone in or two or three different targets. I think it's about winning a game. For us right now … it's the only thing that we're talking about."

KENTUCKY COACH MATTHEW MITCHELL

No. 7 seed Kentucky (15-14, 5-9) faces No. 7 seed Georgia (18-12, 7-7), on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

"We're definitely excited to play in the Southeastern Conference Tournament," Matthew Mitchell said. "I think it's one of the most exciting weekends of the year, especially for basketball fans. It's a great event. We're looking forward to getting down to Little Rock. They've always done a good job of putting the tournament on, so we're excited to play it.

"I wish we had done better in the regular season. I wish we had played better and were in a better position, but now that the brackets are set we are looking forward to moving forward. This is a brand new season for us, and we're going to work real hard to try to come out with a win against a real good Georgia team."

Kentucky lost its final home game of the season to Georgia, 61-57, so the two teams won't really need to update their scouting reports this week.

"I think for us it's probably an advantage to be able to play someone that you've played recently just the preparation and what they like to do being fresh on your players' minds and I think we'll be motivated to play well, because we played so poorly against them last week," Mitchell said. "So I think it's probably an advantage for us. It certainly helps our preparation efforts because everything is so fresh, so we're looking forward to playing them.

"They're a very tough team, very well-coached team so it will be a strong challenge for us."

Kentucky is in a bracket with Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina, LSU and Vanderbilt.

"I think one thing for us as we look at our bracket we have a great deal of optimism because we played everyone on our side very competitively so definitely there's a feeling of if we go down there and play well we have a chance to win the tournament, and I think everybody in the league probably has the same feeling," Mitchell said.

LSU COACH VAN CHANCELLOR

No. 3 seed LSU (17-9, 10-4) has a first-round bye and will face the winner of the South Carolina-Mississippi State game on Friday at 10 p.m. Eastern.

LSU earned its bye by beating Tennessee last week, and the Lady Tigers enter the tournament as one of the hottest teams with a five-game winning streak – three at home against Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee, and two on the road versus Georgia and Ole Miss.

"I'm really happy with our team," Van Chancellor said. "We've won five games in a row. We're playing great defense. This team has had a major turnaround in the last five games. We just needed a time to grow. We're not starting as many freshmen, but a lot of the players we start are freshmen in experience. And Allison Hightower in my mind has been unbelievable for us at this time."

Hightower, who was named to First Team All-SEC on Tuesday, has been the go-to player for the Lady Tigers.

"I don't think there's any doubt right now Allison Hightower is one of the two best players in this league and I think the best defensive player in this league and with five games to go – in fact after the Mississippi State (a loss) – we just called her in and said, ‘Allison, you've just got to take over more. If we're going to turn this thing the way we want it to be turned you're going to have to get the ball more, if they're pressing us go to handle the ball more.'

"She's a great kid and she just wouldn't come get the ball enough and now you see the results. She's just a sweet person, doesn't want to hurt anybody's feelings, doesn't want to make anybody mad, doesn't want to hog the ball. Doesn't want to do any of those things. One of the greatest kids I ever met. I said, ‘Hey, that ain't going to win games. You'd better get out here and right now we need you. Jump in there to it.' "

Chancellor also attributed the turnaround to other players realizing what they had to do to help LSU.

"Everybody on our team began to understand," Chancellor said. "We brought them in at this time and said, ‘OK, we'll define your role explicitly.' "

Different players heard different things: Don't shoot, dribble drive. Get the ball to Hightower. Don't shoot beyond 12 feet.

Chancellor also noted that freshman LaSondra Barrett, who was named Tuesday as co-SEC Freshman of the Year with Arkansas' Ceira Ricketts, accepted the challenge to be a bigger factor offensively.

"Everybody accepted their role, and we put (Kristen) Morris in the lineup, and her senior experience made us a better defensive team," Chancellor said.

If Mississippi State, which swept the season series against LSU, beats South Carolina, the Lady Tigers will get a third game against the Lady Bulldogs.

"I don't think you draw a great bracket when the possibility of playing a team that's already beat you twice that's been pretty dominant over you," Chancellor said. "Well, you know, here's my thing. If you don't want play Mississippi State or South Carolina, how about jumping down there and getting on the winner of Kentucky and Georgia? If you don't like that how about going up there and getting Tennessee and Alabama? Northwest Junior College wasn't at the tournament, so I don't guess I'd have been happy with anybody."

When Chancellor was asked where to rank this coaching performance – earning a bye with such a young team and finishing with the same conference record as No. 2 seed Vandy – he replied, "It's pretty hard to rank yourself. Our players just came together. Our players did more of what we're doing right now. I'm so proud of them. Last year I just rode those players' backs and this year I've done a pretty good job of riding these players. I'm just pleased for them that we've gone so far and made such a change in these last five games.

"We've won eight of our last 10 games so this has been an absolutely rewarding year to see this happen for this team."

OLE MISS COACH RENEE LADNER

No. 9 seed Ole Miss (16-13, 5-9) faces No. 8 seed Arkansas (17-12, 6-8), on Thursday at 1 p.m. Eastern in the first game of the tourney.

"Once again I feel much like most of the other coaches in the conference – I think the conference tournament is wide open, something that we've not seen for the most part," Renee Ladner said.

Ole Miss has played better than its conference record indicates. The Rebels led Tennessee late in Knoxville and were a made three-pointer in the final seconds from the upset.

"My team has left a lot on the table, and we've not finished a lot of games, but yet we've managed to put really good games back to back," Lander said. "We played Tennessee quite well. We played Auburn very well. Even (Sunday), we gave LSU a run, so, once again, I think the conference tournament is wide open, and it's not a favorite to one team or the other."

Ole Miss is a team that has played well and then followed that with inconsistent performances so Ladner, sounding like Summitt, isn't sure what her team will provide at any given time.

"I would love to say that we were full of confidence, but I don't think that would be true," Lander said. "This has been a team that you don't really know as a coach what you're going to get on any given night. If you had told me that we would've walked into Tennessee in front of 14,000 people and played as well as we did and played Auburn to the end and then to come out and be in those games I just would have told you I wasn't sure that was going to happen.

"None of that has seemed to carry over, per se. I think the Alabama loss was hard for us and I think our kids took that very personal, which we were trying to get them to take everything personal for the most part this year, and we caught Vanderbilt at home (with a win) and that was after a debilitating loss. We have left a lot on the table. I think we are growing and maturing as a group, but we're still a work in progress. We've not played up to our expectations, but we know that this is a new day and you put four days together and you have a shot at winning, so we're going to go in with those thoughts."

Ole Miss will first face the team playing in its home state so the Razorbacks could be expected to have an edge for that reason because of fan support.

"In playing Arkansas at home, in which I kind of look at it that way, there in Little Rock, I think they'll have a good crowd, and they have been playing very well," Ladner said. "Coach Collen has put together a string of five wins prior to the loss at Auburn, but that's not a bad loss. Auburn is a very good team. His team should be ready to play. Once again, we have to look at this as a new season. Ole Miss has to flush where we've been, and we're just 0-0 and we're going to go in and try to give them our best game."

The Rebels lost to Arkansas, 70-59, in Fayetteville in the regular season on Feb. 15 so the rematch does get Ole Miss a shot at revenge.

"As a player I would file things and use them later, and that's what I always want my team to do," Ladner said. "I don't think we played our best game at Arkansas. I think our kids feel good about Arkansas. I think Arkansas feels good about playing us. I think as a player, when a team has beaten you, you want to go back and try to redeem that loss. Right now it's not going to be as much about Arkansas as it is about us playing a very good basketball game for 40 minutes, something we've not been able to do."

MISSISSIPPI STATE COACH SHARON FANNING

No. 6 seed Mississippi State (21-8, 8-6) faces No. 11 seed South Carolina (10-17, 2-12), on Thursday at 10 p.m. Eastern in the last game on the first day of competition.

The Lady Bulldogs lost back-to-back games to Auburn and Tennessee and finished the regular season with wins over South Carolina and Alabama.

"We all realize that this is a new season for everybody, and it's important that you play your best basketball," Sharon Fanning said. "Right now I'm very concerned on how we play and how we focus. We've had some phases of games that have been very, very good ball – defensively, rebounding and taking great shots together – and there're others where we haven't focused as well. We're now looking for that consistent game."

Mississippi State is considered among the five to six SEC teams that should receive a bid for the NCAA Tournament, but a strong showing in Little Rock would be beneficial for the Lady Bulldogs to solidify the resume.

"I can't speak for the committee, and I think that the tournament is always important," Fanning said. "Being in the top half of the league and having beaten a couple of teams that are ahead of us that hopefully does things and the fact even with our losses we've played close games.

"As I watch the teams nationally compete I feel like we deserve a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but I know we don't need to look that far ahead. I know that we need to try to be very, very focused on this first basketball game and feel like every game is critical to us getting in because as you get on the board – I know we're on the board – you never know what upsets are in other leagues. I feel like we deserve a spot there, however, I think that we have to take care of business right now and I surely am not looking past that first basketball game and realizing the importance of that."

The Lady Bulldogs could feel like the Rebels at time – they left some games on the table that were there for the taking in the regular season.

"We have been in position and there's a break there and usually it's that focus, it's a toughness," Manning said. "It's that maturity standpoint that you have to have for that 40-minute period, and there have to be players at that point that step up and make great decisions with great effort, and they have to do it together. That's what we're continuing to look for, and we have seen the spurts of it.

"A team has to expect to win. The team that can stay focused, they can work the hardest, they can expect to win the longest amount of time out there on the floor is going to have fewer mental mistakes and is going to play harder longer and be able to make some things happen. … Ultimately the players make the plays, and they have to have that effort and that mindset and that toughness about them that when they go in they just won't back down. I hope and pray and expect that that's where we are right now. This needs to be your finest hour as you go into this tournament. That is your next step."

SOUTH CAROLINA COACH DAWN STALEY

No. 11 seed South Carolina (10-17, 2-12) faces No. 6 seed Mississippi State (21-8, 8-6) on Thursday at 10 p.m. Eastern.

The Gamecocks struggled this season and also got hit with injuries to two key players – Brionna Dickerson and Demetress Adams. Dickerson, a senior guard, scored 31 points against Ole Miss in January, and it turned out to be her last full game as she injured her knee in the next game and tried to rehab and play but had to end her senior season in February. Adams, a senior forward, injured her knee on Jan. 22 and was lost for the season. They were the top scorers for South Carolina.

South Carolina got the win over Ole Miss in January and later defeated Alabama for its two conference wins. Despite the blows to the roster, the Gamecocks played several teams closely, including a one-point loss to Ole Miss in the rematch and a four-point loss to Arkansas.

"I think our team has progressed throughout the season," Dawn Staley said. "I think our record isn't any indication of how hard we've been working to make that record better. We are a little shorthanded but at the same time the people that are able-bodied they're giving everything they have, and I really can't expect much more from them, besides making a few less decisions down the stretch that may have cost us a couple of basketball games. But I think for the most part we're pretty young and all the players that are playing are very inexperienced so we're getting some valuable experience."

This is Staley's first season as head coach at South Carolina after a successful stint at Temple, and she inherited a roster that had sustained losses due to dismissals and a transfer and then lost her two top players in Adams and Dickerson.

South Carolina just played Mississippi State on Feb. 26 and lost, 58-41, so the teams will be very familiar with each other.

"I think it's a good thing to have played somebody just a week ago," Staley said. "For me I think Mississippi State is probably the dark horse in the SEC. I think they are capable of winning it all. It's unfortunate that we're playing them Thursday night.

"For us our challenge is trying to attack the basket. I thought we did that pretty well in the first half of our basketball game but relied on a lot of jump shooting in the second half, and they pretty much took control of the game. We just have to put a complete game together and try to wear them down a lot, making them play both sides of the basketball."

TENNESSEE COACH PAT SUMMITT

No. 5 seed Tennessee (20-9, 9-5) faces No. 12 seed Alabama (13-16, 1-13) on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

Tennessee is playing on the first day for the first time since 1997, when the Lady Vols lost nine regular season games, one in the SEC tourney in the semifinals and then went on to win a national title in one of the most improbable championships in NCAA history.

"We're excited about the tournament, and I think it's the time of year that you feel like it's obviously going to be very competitive, but it gives us a chance to face some opponents for the second time around, and it's always a tough tournament to play in because you're playing back-to-back games if you can stay alive so I'm just looking forward to seeing how our team responds," Pat Summitt said.

If Tennessee wins its first-round game against the Crimson Tide then Florida awaits in the second round, and Sha Brooks will have to be contained. She single-handedly wiped out Tennessee's lead in the game in Gainesville.

"There are a lot of dimensions in her game, and we weren't ready to step up and defend her the way we had to defend her to take away some of her scoring options," Summitt said. "That was obviously a situation where she took over the game, and we could not make shots and make stops."

Brooks is an established senior leader for Florida, and Tennessee's Shekinna Stricklen, who is just a freshman, is developing into one for the Lady Vols. Stricklen was a unanimous choice Tuesday for the SEC All-Freshman Team, and she also joined teammate Angie Bjorklund on the Second Team All-SEC. Glory Johnson joined Stricklen on the All-Freshman Team.

Stricklen, who played point guard, wing guard and small forward this season and started all 14 SEC games, put up numbers of 12.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in league play. She was second in the conference in free throw shooting at 83.0 percent.

"Coming in I don't think Shekinna wanted to be a point guard here, but I felt like she could be a very special player and it's not so much about her getting stuck at the point position because of how we run our offense," Summitt said. "I told her, ‘All you've got to do is make an entry pass and then, guess what, you become a player. Don't make being the point guard something that's going to cause you to be stressed over it but to be excited about having that role and having the ball in your hands coming up the floor.' I think she's settled in now and knows that she is our best option as a starting point guard, and I think she now has embraced the role."

Tennessee goes to Little Rock with the youngest team in program history – 70 percent of the available roster is first-year players – and one that has frustrated Summitt with its lack of consistency both from game to game and within games. The loss to LSU that forced the Lady Vols to play on the first day of the SEC tourney was a performance Summitt had seen too many times – sluggish first-half followed by a furious comeback in the second half. Tennessee did win its last game of the regular season so the Lady Vols hope to build on that performance.

"I think the win over Vanderbilt was good for us," Summitt said. "It gave us some confidence, and it was one of the best games we've played all year. I guess we've had three games in which I thought we understood how we needed to play to be successful (Georgia, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt). I don't know how they'll respond going into the tournament – if they're going to feel pressure or if they're going to just be able to go and focus on being the best team that they can be.

"Certain things are out of your control. We've just got to control the things that are within our control as far as taking care of the basketball and setting and using good screens and being committed to rebounding and all the things that we talk about all the time."

Summitt has eased up on the practice court as postseason arrives, especially with her team needing two wins in a row just to get to the semifinals. The team's session was shorter Monday than is typical and Tuesday was an off day. Wednesday will be very light and then the team leaves for Little Rock. Her tone often switches to one that is more positive in postseason, and that held true Monday – although she was as demanding – with a team that has been as trying to the coach as any in her 35-year career.

"I think this time of the year is when coaches have to really be very invested in the communication and bringing out the best in players, and that's what our whole staff will do," Summitt said. "It's a time for us to be positive as well as demanding. The management from the bench on the part of our staff will be there, and we'll help them all we can, but ultimately players have to be the ones to make plays."

VANDERBILT COACH MELANIE BALCOMB

No. 2 seed Vanderbilt (21-8, 10-4) has a first-round bye and will face the winner of the Kentucky-Georgia game on Friday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

The Commodores were in position to win the SEC but closed the regular season with losses to Ole Miss and Tennessee. Vanderbilt has had success in the tourney and took the crown most recently in 2007.

Vanderbilt lost its post player, Hannah Tuomi, to a stress fracture in her foot – she played 14 minutes against Ole Miss and none against Tennessee – and her availability to play this week is questionable. The Commodores have switched to a four-guard lineup.

"I'm excited about what we can do in postseason with a smaller, quicker lineup and using a four-guard lineup has been really unique for us, but I think our players stepped up," Melanie Balcomb said. "I think they're working really hard, and I just really like this team, and I hope we can keep it going."


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