SEC Women's Tournament Preview

William Shakespeare said, “The play’s the thing.” Athletes live to play, and coaches live to coach. Generally, this means that more games is a good thing… but not when playing on day one of the conference tournament is the topic of discussion. Vanderbilt has to start the SEC tournament. Can the Dores finish one win and make Kentucky sweat on day two?

So, the Vanderbilt Commodores limp into the SEC tournament, having to play on first-round Wednesday when the fifth through tenth seeds get a single bye and the top four seeds get a double bye. Vanderbilt’s late slide pushed the team all the way to Wednesday, when Thursday was a reasonable expectation for much of the season. It’s a frustrating thing to have to play on Wednesday, because it brings forth the knowledge that even if Alabama can be surmounted on day one, Kentucky will have to be faced with less than a full tank of energy on day two. Then, if the Wildcats are somehow conquered, would Vanderbilt have anything left for third-seeded Mississippi State on Friday in the quarterfinals?

(And then, what about second-seeded Tennessee in the semifinals on Saturday? How about top-seeded South Carolina in the final on Sunday? Yes, you can see that it's not really worth previewing too much of this tournament from a Vanderbilt perspective. Giving a look at the first two rounds should suffice for the time being.)

That last detail really tells the story: When you have to play a game that’s two rounds before the quarterfinals, you know your conference season hasn’t gone the way you hoped it would. VU’s most reasonable expectation is to beat Alabama and push Kentucky to the final minutes, making the under-four media timeout in the second half a time for discussing endgame strategy… not the WNIT.

The conference tournament is a time for teams such as Vanderbilt to reset the dial. The reality of neutral-site, day-after-day basketball can give teams a chance to say, “If we can play great for this one week, all of our past frustrations can be reduced at the very least, and possibly something more.” Can the Dores find some of those “more” moments? We’ll find out soon enough against Alabama and, if we’re still here on Thursday, Kentucky.


For the purposes of a tournament preview, we won’t provide the full standard look at one and only one team, but we will give you a new check-in on Alabama’s starters and bench, plus a number of team statistics from the regular season that’s just been completed. We’ll then offer a brief statistical look at Kentucky, the team Vanderbilt would play if it does manage to fight past Alabama on Wednesday.


37.7 team field goal percentage (11th in SEC, 256th nationally)

62.8 free throw percentage (12th in SEC, 319th nationally)

Points scored per possession: 0.821 (last in SEC, 287th nationally)

Points allowed per possession: 0.843 (12th in SEC, 90th nationally)

Field goal percentage defense: 40.3 percent (11th in SEC, 199th nationally)

3-point field goal percentage defense: 32.8 percent (last in SEC, 259th nationally)

Assists per game: 10.8 (last in SEC, 302nd nationally)

Turnovers per game: 18.5 (12th in SEC, 314th nationally)

Turnovers forced per game: 18 (7th in SEC, 53rd nationally)

Starting Lineup

Forward – Briana Hutchen –
Senior, 6-1; 2014-15: 5.2 points per game, 4.9 rebounds per game

Hutchen is averaging 1.8 fewer points per game and 1.1 fewer rebounds per game compared to the last time these teams met, on Jan. 25. It is worth pointing out that whereas the other four members of the starting five all got at least 25 minutes of playing time this past Sunday against Auburn, Hutchen played only 15. This points to a reduced role for her, but then again, the first game of a tournament could mean that Hutchen – a little fresher than her teammates – might get more playing time as the Tide confront the reality of a multi-day tournament and the need to distribute minutes more evenly.

Forward – Nikki Hegstetter – Junior, 6-2; 2014-15: 5.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg

Hegstetter’s scoring and rebounding averages have both declined by 0.4 per game in the five weeks since these teams last met. Alabama remains a team with only one truly formidable scorer, and that’s the player you’re going to meet next:

Forward – Ashley Williams – Sophomore, 6-0; 2014-15: 13.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg

Williams’ scoring average, compared to the previous meeting between these teams, is down 0.2 points per game. Her rebounding average is unchanged. We told you in our previous (regular-season) scouting report on Alabama that Williams was a 48-percent foul shooter. Well, in her most recent game against Auburn, Williams hit just 3 of 10 free throws. Hack-A-Williams could be something Vanderbilt considers if this game is close in the final minutes. Leading by two in the final 10 seconds, for example, if Williams gets her hands on the ball, a Vanderbilt foul would not be a bad play at all.

Guard – Karyla Middlebrook – Freshman, 5-7; 2014-15: 7.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.2 assists per game

Middlebrook’s scoring average – relative to Jan. 25 – is up 0.6 points, so that’s something for VU to pay attention to. Her rebounding average is down 0.3 boards, and her assist average is down 0.6 per game.

Guard – Hannah Cook – Freshman, 6-0; 2014-15: 8.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.3 apg

Cook’s scoring average is down 0.2 points per game relative to the previous meeting between these teams. Her rebounding average is barely unchanged (+0.1 boards), and the same is true for her assists (-0.1). Yet, while noting that her scoring average has been stagnant, it is very much worth noting that Cook poured in 24 points on 5-of-7 three-point shooting in Alabama’s most recent game against Auburn. That’s definitely something to take seriously.


You might recall that reserve guard Breanna Hayden was suspended for Alabama’s previous meeting with Vanderbilt due to her role in a brawl against Auburn. Vanderbilt barely defeated the Crimson Tide with Hayden out of the mix, so this should rightly be a point of concern for VU. Hayden averages 4.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. Reserve forward Quanetria Bolton Bolton averages 5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game – the scoring is up half a point relative to Jan. 25, while the rebounding average is down 0.7 boards. Rounding out the bench are guards Khadijah Carter and Meoshonti Knight. Carter averages 1.2 points per game, down 0.3 points from Jan. 25. Knight averages 7.5 points, down 0.8 points from the last Bama-VU game. She also averages 2.5 boards, down 0.4 from the previous time these teams met.


39.4 team field goal percentage (10th in SEC, 197th nationally)

66.7 free throw percentage (8th in SEC, 239th nationally)

Points scored per possession: 0.911 (5th in SEC, 120th nationally)

Points allowed per possession: 0.842 (11th in SEC, 89th nationally)

Field goal percentage defense: 40.3 percent (11th in SEC, 199th nationally)

3-point field goal percentage defense: 30.1 percent (12th in SEC, 110th nationally)

Assists per game: 10.9 (13th in SEC, 297th nationally)

Turnovers per game: 16.5 (8th in SEC, 211th nationally)

Turnovers forced per game: 22 (1st in SEC, 3rd nationally) Top Stories