By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
No. 4-ranked Tennessee is 27-2 overall, went 15-1 against the SEC and won the regular season league championship by four full games over its closest competitor, Kentucky.
Still, coaches believe anyone can be a winner when the SEC women’s tournament begins today in Duluth, Ga., outside of Atlanta.
“You see the number of teams ranked … It will be the most competitive tournament we’ve ever had,” Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said.
The SEC has four teams in the AP Top 25 but only the Lady Vols in the top 15. Kentucky is No. 19, LSU No. 21 and Georgia No. 22.
The Lady Bulldogs are wedged in the middle of those ranked teams as the No. 3 seed in Duluth. MSU (18-11, 9-7 SEC) gets a first-round bye and will face the Alabama-Georgia winner Friday at 8 p.m., to conclude Day 2.
Georgia is the only ranked team not to receive a bye. Those went to the top four spots, and LSU finished No. 4.
Ole Miss (16-13, 7-9), the No. 9 seed, faces No. 8 seed South Carolina (14-14, 7-9) at 11 a.m. The winner advances to face Tennessee at 11 a.m., Friday.
After a 5-1 SEC start the Rebels went 2-8 for the remainder of the league schedule.
“We’ve been struggling ever since,” Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner said. “We’ve had some really good highs, beaten some good teams. We go into the tournament feeling as if it’s anyone’s tournament, that anyone can put a couple of games together.”
Three of the Rebels league wins were against Georgia and LSU (twice), two of them on the road.
Ole Miss lost 64-50 at South Carolina on Jan. 28.
Whatever the Rebels can get done in Duluth will depend largely on senior shooting guard Bianca Thomas, who finished the regular season as the SEC’s scoring champ with 21.1 points a game, had 34 in a losing cause at Tennessee in the last game.
Ole Miss had the game tied at 50 with 12:37 remaining, but Tennessee scored 17 of the next 21 points to win 75-63. The Lady Vols required a 3-pointer with 1 second left in regulation to win 61-58 in Oxford on Feb. 11.
The Rebels would likely have to be the last team standing in Duluth to reach the NCAA tournament.
That isn’t expected to be the case for the Lady Bulldogs. Their No. 3 standing in the SEC should be a solid card to play with the selection committee, although their RPI of 65 will isn’t.
“We have to understand this is a new season, a new opportunity,” Fanning-Otis said. “It’s going to take the same fundamentals we talk about, the same toughness and execution, the same being patient and doing things together.”
Fanning-Otis believes the SEC will be well-represented in the NCAA tournament.
“It will be a disappointment if there are not six teams in, and I think there are more on the table, a few teams being looked at for how they play in this tournament.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org