Tennessee ladies only after crown
Posted: Thursday, March 3, 2011 7:53 pm
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — The Southeastern Conference tournament is back in Music City, not that any team might be capable of stopping regular season champion Tennessee from running away with another title.
The fourth-ranked Lady Vols capped off their ninth perfect run in SEC play in coach Pat Summitt’s 37 seasons, the league’s first since expanding to a 16-game schedule.
Now they want their second straight tournament title, third in four years and 15th overall.
Anything less will be a disappointment.
“Of course. That’s the way we think,” Summitt said.
“What I don’t want us to do is have a letdown. We’ve got to stay focused. We’ve got to be a team on a mission. If they’re satisfied with what they’ve already accomplished then we are going to be going home early. We’ve got to keep reminding not about what they have done, but about how much more they can do.”
The Lady Vols (28-2), who plays either Arkansas or Florida in Friday’s quarterfinals, almost have been on cruise control through the SEC.
They played only three close games with their tightest a 73-67 win at Kentucky on Feb. 7.
“I think they would be about as heavy a favorite as there’s ever been in the Southeastern Conference,” said LSU coach Van Chancellor, whose Lady Tigers lost 73-65 in Baton Rouge to open this season against Tennessee only to lose 80-60 in the finale in Knoxville.
“They’ve got depth. They’ve got size. They got shooters. I don’t know of anything they don’t have,” Chancellor said.
Summitt can identify her potential weakness: point guard.
The closest player Tennessee has to a true point guard is freshman Lauren Avant, who has struggled with injuries this season.
“We’ve been able to piece it all together with guard play, especially Meighan Simmons and Kamiko Williams. Hopefully, Lauren will be good to go when we get into the tournament,” Summitt said.
The Lady Vols are playing in an SEC down compared to other seasons.
Just look at the Top 25 rankings where No. 16 Kentucky is the only other ranked team here.
Five NCAA Tournament berths might be optimistic with LSU likely needing a win to join the top four seeds here — Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Georgia.
Arkansas (18-10) opens up the SEC Women’s Tour-nament today against No. 8 seed Florida (17-13) having lost two straight and needing a strong performance.
Coach Tom Collen is focusing on winning a first-round game for the first time since 2005.
The winner of this game advances to play top-seeded Tennessee on Friday.
“If you want to try and play your way back onto the bubble, what better way to do it than win your first game, play Tennessee, play them tough, maybe even upset them and then that puts you back into the picture,” Collen said.
The first round also features Alabama playing LSU followed by Mississippi-South Carolina and Mississippi State wrapping up the night against Auburn. Florida has won three straight, and coach Amanda Butler will be working close to home with plenty of friends and family expected to be in the stands at Bridgestone Arena.
“We’ve just got to beat Arkansas and keep our focus right there,” Butler said. “Unless we can be playing on that last day, it’s kind of out of your hands.”
This is the first of two straight years for the SEC tournament back in Nashville, and Tennessee won the title in the last visit to the Bridgestone Arena in 2008 when that event set attendance records for the tournament and the championship game that still stand.
Vanderbilt also won here in 2002 and 2004. The Commodores would play Tennessee for a third time this season only by advancing to Sunday’s championship.
“Being in your own home town creates comfort,” Vandy coach Melanie Balcomb said.
Tennessee will have enough fans wearing orange and white to be pretty cozy too. On the court, the Lady Vols lead most SEC categories as the top scoring offense, averaging 78.3 points a game, and as the league’s top shooters overall (46 percent) and beyond the 3-point line (36.5 percent). The Lady Vols are winning games by a margin of 23.7 points per game.
They also play a little defense with the league’s stingiest unit holding opponents to 33 percent shooting. Tennessee is the top rebounding team and averages an SEC-best 5.3 blocked shots per game. That’s not stopping Summitt from reminding her Lady Vols how aggressive the SEC tournament will be.
“We’ve got to bring our ’A’ game. If we don’t bring our ’A’ game, anything can happen. We just have to be mindful, that we have to do everything we can do to make sure we do what we want on the court,” Summitt said.