No rest. No problem.
The lack of a bye in the SEC Women’s Tournament hasn’t scared off Vanderbilt. The Commodores remain confident they can achieve their goal of a tournament championship, even if that means they have to win four games in four days.
The quest begins at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at Bridgestone Arena when seventh-seeded Vanderbilt (21-8, 9-7) takes on No. 10 seed Mississippi State (14-15, 4-12).
“It has been done,” forward Tiffany Clarke said. “It would be tough. It’s going to be a challenge but it is definitely doable, especially how every SEC team is this year. It literally is anybody’s title this year.”
This year is different.
Since the league did away with divisions prior to the 1985-86 season, only twice has the regular-season champ lost more than one league game – Auburn in 2009 and Kentucky this season. The Wildcats (24-5) hold the top seed after going 13-3 in SEC play. No. 2 seed Tennessee (21-8, 12-4) and third seed Georgia (22-7, 11-5) finished close behind – ahead of the logjam as three teams tied for fourth with six losses apiece.
The parity sets up what might be an eventual four days and threatens to crown a non-Tennessee school as champion for the first time in nine years. Since LSU won in 2003, Vanderbilt and UT have won the last eight.
The Commodores won in 2004, 2007 and 2009 – senior reserve Jordan Coleman is the only player from that squad. When Vanderbilt claimed the championship in 2004, it did so as the sixth seed. Vanderbilt, Auburn (1997) and Kentucky (1982) are the only schools in the tournament’s 32-year history to run the tables without a first-round bye.
Also to the benefit of Vanderbilt is the possibility of a homecourt advantage. The Commodores make the short trek down Broadway for the second straight season. Out of their six tournament championships, two (2002 and 2004) were won in Nashville.
“It is a little tricky because it is a bit like a road game. Being at Bridgestone – it’s not Memorial [Gymnasium],” said guard Christina Foggie, the league’s leading scorer and All-SEC first team selection. “Definitely still being in Nashville is good for us. We still have our fanbase, families coming. It still feels like a home atmosphere.”
Vanderbilt hasn’t lost to Mississippi State in two years and has won last four in the series. The Commodores escaped Starkville on Feb. 5 with a six-point victory, pulling away from a tie game in the last four minutes.
If they can put away the Bulldogs again, they’ll see in-state foe Tennessee for the third time this season. The teams split the season series and Vanderbilt snapped a eight-game losing streak to the Lady Vols with a 93-79 home victory on Feb. 9.
“It would be nice to get another shot at them and to prove ourselves more, show it wasn’t a fluke,” Clarke said. “But we’re not even focusing on that game. We have to get to that game first. We’re definitely only focusing on Mississippi State right now.”
SEC WOMEN’S TOURNAMENT
(all games at Bridgestone Arena)
Game 1: No. 9 Auburn vs. No. 8 Florida, noon (FSN)
Game 2: No. 10 Mississippi State vs. No. 7 Vanderbilt, 2:30 p.m. (FSN)
Game 3: No. 12 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Arkansas, 6:30 p.m. (FSN)
Game 4: No. 11 Alabama vs. No. 6 South Carolina, 9 p.m. (FSN)
Game 5: No. 1 Kentucky vs. Game 1 winner, noon (FSN)
Game 6: No. 2 Tennessee vs. Game 2 winner, 2:30 p.m. (FSN)
Game 7: No. 4 LSU vs. Game 3 winner, 6:30 p.m. (FSN)
Game 8: No. 3 Georgia vs. Game 4 winner, 9 p.m. (FSN)
Semifinal – Game 5 and Game 6 winners, 3 p.m. (ESPNU)
Semifinal – Game 7 and Game 8 winners, 5 p.m. (ESPNU)
Championship game, 5 p.m. (ESPN2)