RESULT: Tennessee 76, Ole Miss 51
NEXT: Tennessee, 28-2, vs. Vanderbilt, 22-9, at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, TV: ESPNU.
See separate game story on this site.
GAME TWO: No. 2 seed %%MATCH_38%% vs. No. 10 seed %%MATCH_42%%
RESULT: Kentucky 65, Auburn 54
NEXT: Kentucky, 24-6, vs. Mississippi State, 19-11, at 6 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, TV: ESPNU
Kentucky got double-digit scoring from its SEC honorees to avenge a loss five days ago to Auburn and earn a spot in the tourney semifinals on Saturday.
Victoria Dunlap, the SEC Player of the Year, scored 24 points on 10-19 shooting, and A'dia Mathies, the SEC Freshman of the Year, scored 15 points on 6-11 shooting. The pair combined for 39 of Kentucky's 65 points, 13 of the Wildcats' 32 rebounds and five of the 16 assists.
"She played like a Player of the Year in a very, very important time for our basketball team," said Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell, the SEC Coach of the Year. "She did a great, great job. I'm really, really proud. As I said many times about both these players, extremely fortunate to coach both Vic and A'dia."
The undersized Wildcats had 10 steals to three for Auburn and hit five three-pointers and 10 of 15 free throws to create some separation and stay ahead with five minutes left in the first half. A game tied at 21 with 5:56 on the clock ended with a 32-25 halftime lead for the Wildcats and then Kentucky never trailed in the second half.
"It was not a masterpiece by an stretch of the imagination, but it was certainly a good performance," Mitchell said. "We were just thrilled to win and are just going to try to wake up (Saturday) and stay as close to our identity as we can and see if we can win one more."
The Wildcats like to score in transition, and they got 14 fast break points to zero for Auburn. Kentucky also wants to pressure the ball handler on defense and then push the ball on offense.
"As soon as they get the ball out of the basket, they're pushing it to the other end," Auburn's Alli Smalley said. "It's definitely hard to keep up with them. They're a great defensive team, and they're a great transition team pushing it up the court.
The Tigers stayed close, though, behind the shooting of Morgan Toles, who was 5-7 for 10 points in the first half. Smalley, who lit up %%MATCH_40%% on Thursday for 29 points, had just three at halftime.
"We just had to stay with her everywhere she went," Mathies said. "Whether switching out, chasing over, just being aggressive with her. Just keeping the ball out of her hands as much as we could."
Kentucky, which had lost two games in a row coming into Duluth, extended its lead to as much as 15 points in the second half with less than five minutes to play after Auburn had managed to keep the deficit in single digits for most of the game.
"We knew we had to turn it around, because we didn't want to keep getting down on ourselves," Mathies said of the two-game losing streak. "We knew we had to continue on what we started at the beginning of the year. I think this win, in particular, is going to help us when we move up to the next tournament."
Auburn, 15-16, was led by Toles, who finished with 13 points, and Smalley, who added 11 points. KeKe Carrier had nine points and four boards off the bench.
"Obviously it's a disappointing loss," Coach Nell Fortner said. "But, you know, it's a tremendous learning experience for our team. We were a little on the young side. This experience will pay off for us next year."
The difference for Kentucky was Dunlap attacking the basket.
"Last time when we played them I was hesitant with KeKe, with all the rest of their post players," Dunlap said. "So this time I was just trying to have the mindset of relaxing, taking the ball to the basket or getting the ball to my teammates."
The opposing coach agreed.
"I think she played like the SEC Player of the Year," said Fortner, who had that player last season in DeWanna Bonner when Auburn won the regular season title. "I don't think she did that when she came to Auburn (last Sunday). … She did not attack the basket like she did today. She did not play as aggressively like she did today. … They definitely lit a fire under her. She had a good day."
GAME THREE: No. 4 seed %%MATCH_43%% vs. No. 5 seed Vanderbilt
RESULT: Vanderbilt 63, LSU 61
NEXT: Vanderbilt, 22-9, versus Tennessee, 28-2, at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, TV: ESPNU
Vanderbilt hits its first shot of the game - a three-pointer from Merideth Marsh - and then LSU proceeded to score 15 unanswered points in a game that the Lady Tigers appeared to seize control of early. But the game went down to the final seconds, as so many games did in the first two days of tourney play, and Vanderbilt safely reached the semifinals.
"Out-coached us tonight, out-hustled us, outplayed us," LSU Coach Van Chancellor said. "I thought Melanie Balcomb did a much better job with their team than I did with mine. They played (Thursday) night in overtime.
They did everything you ought to do. I'm fully responsible. Marsh got what I thought she'd get. (Jence) Rhoads was pretty good. The kid we couldn't stop was 15. She did a heck of a job."
That would be Hannah Tuomi, who was 7-9 from the field for 17 points. Marsh also tallied 17 and was 4-8 behind the arc. Rhoads hit two 3-pointers and chipped in with eight points.
The last time Vandy played LSU was Feb. 18 in Baton Rouge, and the Commodores managed just 39 points in the loss.
"We talked about that game on the bus ride here," Rhoads said. "We didn't want to come out like we did in Baton Rouge. We weren't proud of that game at all. It was one of our worst games all year. We wanted to get a little revenge and show them what we were really made of."
Vandy got back in the game in the first half by getting to the rim as Tuomi, Rhoads and Jessica Mooney got to the paint to score and trim a 15-3 lead to 22-16 with seven minutes still left in the half.
"Well, we've been struggling with leads this year," Vandy Coach Melanie Balcomb said. "So, I decided to remind them it's hard to hold leads, and that they're (LSU) probably going to get tentative and start to hold leads.
"So, I tried to put them in their shoes and say, ‘Hey, they're going to be tentative. We have to get aggressive and the aggressor is going to win.' I thought every time we got down we got real aggressive. … Jence was driving it to the basket or dumping it to Hannah down low."
Vandy led at halftime, 32-30, got down by five in the second half but overcame each deficit. The score was tied six times and the lead changed 10 times, but the Commodores managed to prevail, despite four consecutive missed free throws late in the game. LSU scored at the 4:01 mark with a jumper by Katherine Graham and then didn't score again until a layup by Taylor Turnbow with 20 seconds left in the game.
Chancellor was slightly more colorful in his assessment.
"15-3 had Vandy back on their heels, could not score," Chancellor said. "All of a sudden we think we're going to become a three-point shooting team. Oh, Lord. That's poor coaching, too. … We're out there jacking up three balls, and we ought to have been getting it inside trying to draw fouls. … We played six great basketball games (coming into Duluth) Score is 15-3. We played like we played the last six games. We went brain dead somewhere in here."
Chancellor also said, "I've struggled all year to get them to quit fouling jump shooters. That's poor coaching. I can't get them to quit fouling jump shooters. We made a lazy pass over the press. … I've done everything I can to get them to understand that every possession counts. … I think nothing but just lousy, pitiful, sorry, miserable coaching. And that's putting it mildly."
As a team LSU was 3-14 (21.4 percent) behind the arc and 22-60 (36.7 percent) overall. Vanderbilt out-rebounded LSU, 38-30.
"I agree with what Coach said," Graham said. "We've just got to be more disciplined and listen to what he's saying, go out and execute and try to win those close games."
"I always look at it kind of oddly," said Balcomb, whose team won the SEC tourney in Duluth in 2007 and again last year in 2009 in Little Rock, Ark. "We practice a lot for three hours, and I would say that's harder - and we do it every day, day after day. A 40-minute game or a 45-minute game, I'd say it's not as hard. The games are easier than practices.
"That's the way I always look at it. They should be ready to go, because they had a shorter day than practice."
Vandy had a first-round bye in those years, but the Commodores won the 2004 SEC tourney by playing all four days.
"That's what you do. We came here to play," Rhoads said. "We're excited. We'll be going off adrenaline, so I don't think it will be a problem."
GAME FOUR: No. 3 seed Mississippi State vs. No. 6 seed %%MATCH_41%%
RESULT: Mississippi State 67, Georgia 52
NEXT: Mississippi State, 19-11, versus Kentucky, 24-6, at 6 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, TV: ESPNU
The battle of the Lady Bulldogs went to the out-of-state team as Mississippi State out-scored Georgia, 44-26, in the second half and turned a 26-23 halftime deficit into a double-digit win, much to the dismay of the Georgia fans at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.
"We were pleased at halftime," Georgia Coach Andy Landers said. "We weren't satisfied, but we were pleased. Thought we played reasonably well. … Came out second half and I thought that (Alexis) Rack really hurt us with penetration early in the second half. Got the ball deep. We were very poor with any kind of help for her.
"We turned the ball over on the perimeter. They laid all those up. That created the momentum. They have two things going then: They were driving the ball the way they wanted to drive it in the half-court, and they were running hard. We didn't want any one of those two things to ever happen (Friday), and they had them both going at the same time."
Mississippi State, 19-11, got balanced scoring as all five starters hit double figures and, as a team, shot 53.3 percent in the second half after starting the game at 25.0 percent.
"We just drew it up a little bit different," Fanning-Otis said to laughter. "No, we just encouraged the young ladies that you have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in yourself individually, collectively. You have to trust each other. You have to keep taking great shots. … You have to expect it to go in."
Alexis Rack was 0-7 in the first half for Mississippi State and 5-9 in the second and finished with 14 points. Mary Kathryn Govero was 5-10 from the field for 13 points, and Armelie Lumanu and Tysheka Grimes both added 12 points. Chanel Mokango rounded out the starters with 11 points.
"This was such a team effort for us," Mississippi State Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. "We found a way to win. It was a great team effort. We're headed in the right direction with this."
Georgia, 23-8, was led by Meredith Mitchell with 15 points. Jasmine James added 10 points, and Ashley Houts chipped in with nine points and six assists. Porsha Phillips added eight points and 10 rebounds. Angel Robinson had 11 rebounds and four points.
ODDS AND ENDS:
MAYBE THERE WAS A SALE: Auburn's Nell Fortner was back in festive colors, this time a shade of orange - not Tennessee orange, not really Auburn orange either, perhaps a somewhat muted Halloween orange.
Lady Vols media relations chief Debby Jennings got in the act, too. The longtime staffer wore a blouse of many bright colors with orange, purple, hot pink and black sprinkled across the material. Jennings said she wanted to ensure that her mother could find her at the scorer's table during the game.
LSU Coach Van Chancellor was not outdone by the ladies. He wore a gray suit but spiced it up with a light purple shirt and tie complete with matching handkerchief tucked in front suit pocket.
Mississippi State Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis represented for the last game of the day. She wore a deep maroon blouse that shimmered under the lights. It was waist-length and paired with stylish black pants.
ORANGE-CLAD GREAT: Former Lady Vol Nikki McCray received a rousing ovation at halftime when she was introduced at halftime as part of the "SEC Greats" recognition efforts. Former standout athletes are presented at halftime when their teams play their first game in the SEC tourney.
McCray wore an orange shell under her blazer, a clothing choice she would likely had nixed had South Carolina beaten Ole Miss on Thursday. If that had happened, McCray would have been on the bench Friday as an assistant coach for the Gamecocks during the Tennessee game.
KENTUCKY SQUARED: Kentucky has two recipients of Miss Kentucky Basketball on its roster. One is freshman sensation A'dia Mathies, who won the SEC Freshman of the Year award. The other is Rebecca Gray, a sophomore guard from Georgetown, Ky., who played as a freshman at North Carolina and then transferred home to the Wildcats. Mathies, who is from Louisville, had 15 points. Gray added seven points.
BETWEEN SESSIONS: Ever wonder what happens between sessions on the first two days when the arena is emptied of fans? Standard stuff - a thorough cleanup of the stands complete with mopping up spills and sweeping the rows, trash cans emptied, etc. And the Chick-fil-A cow comes out to shoot baskets in full costume.
INTERACTIVE FANS: Those from LSU and the Vandy band members. The band finished chants started by LSU fans, who pointed at them and egged it on. Vandy's band was the fewest in number - LSU had twice as many - but it was high spirited.
INTERACTIVE CHEERLEADERS: Those of LSU and Georgia who threw out "Relay for Life" cancer awareness hats to the fans at halftime.
BEST-TIMED HIGH FIVE: That of LSU's Allison Hightower and Destini Hughes after a foul call in the first half. They smacked hands just as official Beverly Roberts walked between them, unintentionally forming a perfect inverted V for Roberts to walk under as if they were all playing London Bridge.
BEST SPIN MOVE: That executed by official Laura Morris to get out of the way when a long rebound caromed to a far corner and four players hustled to track it down in the LSU-Vandy game. She managed to both get out of the way of the approaching herd and not take her eyes off the play.
MADDEST FANS: A group of LSU fans in a lower section at the arena. They had quite a bit to say about calls and no calls. When the officials huddled during a timeout late in the game, one LSU fan screamed, "Y'all need to have a meeting so y'all can get it together!"
CHEER DAWGS: Georgia had so much spirit it needed an extra kennel for the Lady Bulldog cheerleaders. Besides the band and standard set of cheerleaders, another group in shiny red "Dawgs" tops and waving silver pompoms was present. They were stashed in one of the extra band slots behind the baskets and performed coordinated dance routines and twirls and cheers.
ORANGE SWARM: Tennessee fans were well represented at both sessions - total attendance for the day was 9,825 - even though the Lady Vols played the noon game. Orange-clad fans were still in attendance at 11 p.m.
"They go on the road," Pat Summitt said. "They're passionate. They're very invested. They know the team. They know the coaches. I'm sure they know all the sets that we run.
"No, our fans are tremendous. … It's something we don't ever want to take for granted."
Chantelle Anderson, a former Vandy standout who is in Duluth, noted on her Twitter page, where abbreviated words are necessary because of space limitation: "1 thing u can appreciate abt UT fans is that they're bball fans. They're in the arena watching games even when their team isn't playing."