Thursday was a warm sunny day in Nashville, sandwiched between the rain and storms of Wednesday and more bad weather predicted for Friday.
In the first game of the afternoon, #8-seeded Florida played #9-seeded Auburn. Florida jumped out to an early lead and early in the second half, their lead grew to as much as 16 points. But Auburn made a run, and cut the deficit to eight points with a couple of minutes to go but couldn't close the gap. Auburn Coach Nell Fortner announced her retirement from coaching last month, and with Auburn's season record of 13-17 record going into the game, it's very possible this was her final game at Auburn.
In the second game of the afternoon session, the #7-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores played the #10-seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs. Mississippi State Head Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis also announced her retirement last month. She'll be moving into administration when the season is over.
Vanderbilt opened the game with the lineup that the staff considers the strongest rebounding and defensive team to help the Dores get off to a good start. Stephanie Holzer scored the first basket of the game.
State tied the score following a turnover, but Jasmine Lister put the Dores back on top, and Vanderbilt was able to maintain the lead for the rest of the game.
Vanderbilt continued to build the lead with balanced scoring and defense that limited the Bulldogs to 33% shooting from the field in the first half, including 0 for 5 from 3-point range.
Going into halftime, Vanderbilt held a 34-22 lead. During the halftime ceremonies, former Vanderblt star Carolyn Peck was honored as Vanderbilt's SEC Great for 2012.
Early in the second half, Elan Brown hit a 3-pointer to incrase the Vanderbilt lead to 15 points at 38-23. But then, thanks in large part to turnovers by the Dores, the Bulldogs went on a 14-2 run to cut the lead to just three points at 40-37. The arena got loud, as many of the fans wearing orange jumped onto the Mississippi State bandwagon. Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb called timeout.
But in the timeout, the talking wasn't done by the Coach. "I wasn't telling them anything," she said in the post-game press conference. "They were telling each other what they wanted. They were leading. I just sat outside the huddle and listened. It started with Steph and Jas and Foggie, all talking about their body language, what they needed to change."
"They all accepted it," she continued. "It was critical at times, and they accepted the criticism and changed it. That's when I knew that we could make a run back and we could take care of business."
And sure enough, the Dores stopped the Bulldog's run and began to take control. A big part of that comeback included getting to the free throw line, and once they were there, the Dores made their foul shots, shooting 92% from the free throw line in the second half.
Clarke scored six straight points as the Dores went on the final run that won the game.
Foggie scored 18 points in the game, equalling her SEC-leading season average. Six of those points came from the free throw line.
Lister scored Vanderbilt's final five points of the game, giving the Dores a 19-point lead with a little over a minute remaining. A 3-pointer at the final buzzer by Diamber Johnson trimmed the final margin to 16 points at 67-51.
In the press conference after the game, a reporter asked how Coach Balcomb felt about the significance of winning her 400th game as a coach. "What does it mean to you" he asked.
"That I'm old," she quipped.
With the afternoon session completed, tournament action took a break prior to the evening session.
In the first game of the evening session, #5-seed Arkansas played #12-seed Ole Miss. The Razorbacks prevailed 67-47 in a game that was never close.
In the last game of the evening, even if his smile wasn't a permanent part of his costume, Cocky would have had plenty to smile about, as South Carolina thrashed Alabama 57-38 to complete the night session. The South Carolina victory meant that all four of the higher-seeded teams in Thursday's games advance to the second rounds.
Tournament action resumes on Friday. The first game of the afternoon session at noon Central Time will pair #1-seed Kentucky with Florida, followed by #2-seed Tennessee and Vanderbilt. in the evening session, Arkansas will play #4-seed LSU at 6:30, followed by #3-seed Georgia against South Carolina.Follow @wbbVandyMania
Photos copyright 2012 by Whitney D. for VandyMania.com