published Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Nothing clear-cut for SEC women

Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb disagrees with an official in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb disagrees with an official in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Photo by Associated Press.

TIPPING IT OFF

The schedule for the first two rounds of the SEC women's basketball tournament, which starts today in Nashville (all times p.m. and Eastern):

Today

1 -- No. 8 Florida (18-11, 8-8) vs. No. 9 Auburn (13-16, 5-11)

3:30 -- No. 7 Vanderbilt (21-8, 9-7) vs. No. 10 Mississippi State (14-15, 4-12)

7:30 -- No. 5 Arkansas (21-7, 10-6) vs. No. 12 Ole Miss (12-17, 2-14)

10 -- No. 6 South Carolina (21-8, 10-6) vs. No. 11 Alabama (12-18, 2-14)

Friday

1 -- No. 1 Kentucky (24-5, 13-3) vs. Florida-Auburn winner

3:30 -- No. 2 Tennessee (21-8, 12-4) vs. Vandy-MSU winner

7:30 -- No. 4 LSU (20-9, 10-6) vs. Arkansas-Ole Miss winner

10 -- No. 3 Georgia (22-7, 11-5) vs. S. Carolina-Alabama winner

Labeling a tournament "wide open" is no way to compliment the No. 1 seed, but Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell can live with that.

Kentucky is the top seed in the Southeastern Conference women's basketball tournament, which begins this afternoon inside Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. The Wildcats won their first regular-season title since 1982 by compiling a 13-3 record, but their three losses are the most by a team seeded first in the 33-year history of the event.

"I don't think that we are an unbeatable team by any stretch of the imagination," Mitchell said. "It's certainly possible for us to lose, but I also think we have a team that can beat anybody in the tournament. If we're viewed as not being the strongest of No. 1 seeds, then we won't have any problem with that."

The Wildcats won their first 10 conference games before splitting their last six. Included in their three setbacks were a 91-54 humbling at Tennessee, which finished second in the league at 12-4, and a 77-75 loss at Alabama, one of just two league games won by the Crimson Tide.

An SEC-record six teams enter having won 10 or more league games. Vanderbilt finished seventh at 9-7, but the Commodores are playing close to campus and have won four of these tournaments since 2002.

"This year you can kind of throw out the seeds and the records," Vandy coach Melanie Balcomb said. "When you have an Alabama, a team that was on the bottom, beat Kentucky, a team that was on the top, in February, that means anybody can beat anybody. There has been no rhyme or reason for a lot of things that you've seen, so I definitely think in my 10 years here that it's the most open tournament."

While the champion will not be decided until Sunday evening on ESPN2, one of the tournament's most meaningful games may be this afternoon's opener between eighth-seeded Florida and ninth-seeded Auburn. Florida went 8-8 in league play and is 18-11 overall, and a win by the Gators today could clinch the SEC getting eight bids to the NCAA tournament.

Eight NCAA bids would match the all-time high for the SEC and would occur a year after the league sent four teams.

"This is going to be so fun for the fans, because there are going to be some really good basketball games," Florida coach Amanda Butler said. "We have a great opportunity to enhance our resume."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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