For several days, weather forecasts had been predicting stormy weather for Middle Tennessee on Friday. However, as fans were arriving at Bridgestone Arena, the skies were partly cloudy, and only the unusual warmth for early March seemed out of the ordinary.
In the first game of the afternoon session, Florida played #1-seeded Kentucky. The Gators jumped on the Wildcats early and led by 14 points at 20-6 with 12:46 left in the first half. Kentucky regrouped, but Florida still led 32-25 at halftime.
In the second half, the Wildcats continued their comeback and took their first lead at 45-44 with 13:07 left in the game. From that point on, the game was a nailbiter. With 1:36 left in the game, Florida held a 1-point lead, but a basket by SEC Freshman of the Year Bria Goss put Kentucky ahead for good. With the 71-67 victory, Kentucky advances to a semi-final game with LSU, while the Gators return to Gainesville to await Selection Monday.
The second game of the afternoon session featured Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Despite the fact that the Bridgestone Arena is only a couple of miles from the Vanderbilt campus, the Commodore fans in attendance were awash in a sea of orange.
"It's tough," said Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb after the game. "What I struggle with is the crowd that we do get is a lot smaller, but it's all spread out in the arena. I'd like to at least have our crowd in one section so we could see them and feel supported, and that doesn't seem to happen here."
Vanderbilt hit a couple of baskets in the first minute of the game, but in the first half, field goals were a rarity. After those early buckets, the Dores only managed five field goals in the first half. In the meantime, the Lady Vols took over the lead, which grew to double digits with seven minutes left. With four minutes left in the first half, the Tennessee lead ballooned to 19 points at 32-13.
Fortunately, even though they shot under 30% from the field, the Dores were able to get to the free throw line. Once there, they were connected on 11 of 12 attempts. Elan Brown sank three of them.
Stephanie Holzer finished the game with 12 points and 11 rebounds, her second double double in two days.
Christina Foggie scored nine points in the first half. She managed only one 3-pointer on seven attempts in the first half but got to the free throw line and made all six of her free throws.
With a couple of minutes to left in the half, Tiffany Clarke hit both of her free throw attempts to cut the Tennessee lead to ten points.
Following a 3-pointer by Foggie, freshman guard Kady Schrann hit a jumped to cut Tennessee lead to eight points at 35-27 going into halftime.
During halftime, former Tennessee star Chamique Holdsclaw was announced as the SEC Great for Tennessee. After she received her commemorative clock, Tennessee Head Coach Pat Summitt joined her on the court.
Meanwhile, outside the arena, the skies were dark and a stiff wind blowing as the long-predicted bad weather approached the Nashville area. Middle Tennessee had been under a tornado watch for several hours, and just about the same time that the first half was complete, a tornado warning was issued for Davidson County after a funnel cloud was sighted west of Nashville.
The weather radar showed a tornado heading towards downtown Nashville, so the halftime break was extended to allow time for the storm to pass. Teams stayed in their locker rooms, fans were asked to stay in the bowl of the Arena, and the media kept their eye on the TVs in the media rooms.
After the storms passed and the teams came back to the court, they were given extra time for warmups. The Vanderbilt players did some of the same warmup exercises they do before the start of games.
Early in the second half, a steal by Jordan Coleman led to a fastbreak basket by Jasmine Lister to cut the Tennessee lead to six points at 37-31.
A few minutes later, a basket by Holzer trimmed the Tennessee lead to just three points a 41-38. Shortly afterwards, another basket by Holzer cut the lead to just one point at 41-40 with 14:11 left in the game.
Lister played another 40 minute game and only committed one turnover.
With Tennessee leading by four points, Foggie hit a desperation shot at the shot clock was about to expire to cut the Lady Vols' lead back to two points at 48-46 with 9:10 left in the game.
But that turned out to be the beginning of the end. Soon afterwards, Holzer picked up her fourth foul and went to the bench, and Tennessee began to pull away again. In the final few minutes of the game, Vanderbilt closed to within six and had several chances to cut further into Tennnessee's lead but was unable to capitalize.
As the game clock wound down, Vanderbilt resorted to fouling to get possession, but the Lady Vols made their free throws when it really counted to seal the 68-57 victory.
In the evening session, the LSU Lady Tigers played the Arkansas Razorbacks in a low-scoring game. Midway through the first half, the Lady Tigers led 12-2. By halftime, Arkansas had climbed out of the hole and trailed LSU by only one point at 19-18.
With two minutes left to play, Arkansas had managed to build a seven-point lead at 40-33. But just when it seemed that a seven-point lead would be insurmountable in a game like this, LSU scored a basket, then another, and then, with nine seconds left, Adrienne Webb hit a 3-pointer to put LSU on top 41-40. Arkansas set up a play, but the defense of the Lady Tigers held for the victory. With the victory LSU advances to a semi-final game on Saturday against Kentucky.
The final game of the day between Georgia and Arkansas was yet another close game. Neither team led by more than eight points at any time during the game, and with 1:03 left in the game, South Carolina led by just two points at 57-55. Georgia had possession of the ball, but turned it over, leaving no choice but to foul. South Carolina made the free throws to seal the 59-55 upset. With the victory, South Carolina advances to the semi-finals for a matchup with the Lady Vols on Saturday afternoon.
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Photos copyright 2012 by Whitney D. for VandyMania.com