Florida looking for first first-round win in Peck era
LITTLE ROCK -- Florida's six league losses are too many to qualify for a bye in the SEC women's basketball tournament, but the Lady Gators have victories over top seeds LSU and Tennessee and are the hot team entering play Thursday.
The tournament, to be played in North Little Rock, begins with four games Thursday. Fifth-seed Florida (20-7, 8-6) takes on Mississippi State (6-21, 1-13), which has a 12-game losing streak. The winner advances to play fourth-seeded Kentucky (20-7, 9-5).
Other games Thursday at North Little Rock's Alltel Arena feature Arkansas-Ole Miss, Alabama-Vanderbilt and Auburn-South Carolina.
Tennessee (25-4, 11-3), seeded second and now No. 8 in the latest AP Top 25, heads to the tournament after losing to an unranked opponent at home for just the second time in school history. Florida beat the Lady Vols Sunday, also marking the first time Tennessee has lost to two unranked opponents in the same season.
Kentucky also beat Tennessee this year, as did No. 3 LSU (25-2, 13-1), the tournament's top seed.
"We've just been a very poor defensive team in a lot of games,'' Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said Monday in an SEC coaches conference call. She said defense and turnovers are her top concerns before the tournament.
Florida re-entered the AP poll on Monday, tied at No. 23 with Vanderbilt.
Florida coach Carolyn Peck noted that, in her four years leading the Lady Gators, the team has never won a first-round game in an SEC tournament.
"You've got to play to stay,'' Peck said. "We're going to have to be focused and intense. Starting in the tournament, you've got to set your goals and refocus.''
Peck said she discussed with her players how they needed to keep their feet on the ground after upsetting LSU this month. The high talent level of teams in the SEC makes it tough to advance, as does the intensity of first-round games, she said.
"Teams are playing on passion and emotion and they really turn up their focus. That's what makes [for] such great games when you get to the SEC Tournament,'' Peck said.
Georgia coach Andy Landers, whose team is 20-7 and 10-4, said the emotion in the early rounds can change outcomes.
"I think there will be surprise or two,'' Landers said.
South Carolina (17-10, 7-7) is the one team that might play its way into the NCAA Tournament with a good showing at Alltel Arena.
"I like being the bubble team,'' coach Susan Walvius said. "If the NCAA committee will look at our last 10 games, I think we have a very good chance to get in.''
South Carolina plays Auburn (13-14, 4-10) in the opening round, and Vanderbilt (19-9, 8-6) faces Alabama (9-18, 3-11) on Thursday.
"I think we played well down the stretch,'' Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. "Our guards need to be more aggressive and drive more from the perimeter.''
Balcomb said she wants her team to attack and create more turnovers: "a go-for-it mentality instead of trying not to lose and not make mistakes,'' she said.
Arkansas (13-14, 5-9) has lost eight in a row, and its most recent defeat was against Mississippi (15-12, 5-9), the team it will play in Thursday's opener.
• Mississippi State coach Shannon Fanning has been stuck at 499 career victories through her 12-game losing streak with the Lady Bulldogs.
• The last time Tennessee lost three SEC games in a season was 1996-97, an 8-4 league campaign.
• LSU clinched the SEC regular-season title and top seed in the SEC tournament for the second straight year. And the last time the tournament was held in North Little Rock (2003), LSU won it.
• Including victories over No. 3 LSU and No. 8 Tennessee, Florida is 5-2 against ranked opponents this season. But the Lady Gators have still managed to lose seven games.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press