The SEC Women's Basketball Tournament returned this week to the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Georgia. With the addition of two teams to the league, the tournament format was extended to five days so the tournament started on Wednesday for the first time.
The next format calls for two games on the first day, but this year there was only one game, as a result of self-imposed sanctions by Ole Miss following the discovery of recruiting violations. With one team already out, only one first round game was necessary with the winner advancing to the customary slate of four Thursday game.
In the Wednesday night game, Alabama defeated Mississippi State 63-36 to advance. In the first session on Thursday, Florida defeated Arkansas 64-59 in the opening game, then South Carolina defeated Alabama 77-35.
That set the stage for the evening session when Vanderbilt and Missouri took to the court in the opening game.
Since the regular season game between Vanderbilt and Missouri took place in the Memorial Gym, this game was the first opportunity for Vanderbilt fans to learn about Missouri fans and traditions, including their mascot.
Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb used a new starting lineup. Freshman Morgan Batey got the first start of her Vanderbilt career, joining Jasmine Lister, Tiffany Clarke, Heather Bowe, and Elan Brown in the starting lineup.
Missouri scored the first basket of the game, but Brown countered with a 3-pointer to give Vanderbilt a 3-2 lead in the early going.
Then Bowe was fouled and hit a pair of free throws to put Vanderbilt up 5-2, followed by a basket by Brown to make the score 7-2 before the first media timeout.
Missouri hit a couple of shots, then Clarke scored, making the score 9-6 in favor of Vanderbilt with 13:50 left in the half.
Christina Foggie, who has been working her way back into the rotation after suffering a knee injury against Kentucky February 14, knocked down a three to make the score 12-8 with 11:57 left in the half.
A game with a score of 12-8 with 11:57 left in the first half is a low scoring game, but in comparison to what followed, the 12 points in the first eight minutes looked like an offensive explosion. In the remaining twelve minutes of the half, Vanderbilt managed only four points on field goals by Lister and Batey.
While the Dores were struggling, right behind the baseline, the raucous Missouri pep band was loving it. But unfortunately for them, the Tigers were also struggling on offense. At one point, nearly six minutes passed with neither team scoring a field goal. When the halftime buzzer sounded, Missouri held a one-point lead at 17-16. That's not a typo.
At halftime of each team's first tournament game, the "SEC Great" for the team is recognized. Vanderbilt's SEC Great this year is Ashley McElhiney Ayers. However, Ashley Mac wasn't able to come to the tournament due to the imminent arrival of her second child, so Candice Storey Lee accepted the award on her behalf.
The second half began better for the Tigers than for the Dores, and with 14:00 left in the game, Missouri took a seven-point lead at 26-19. Coach Balcomb called a timeout and sent freshman point guard Jasmine Jenkins into the game.
Clarke scored, then Christina Foggie, who is still working her way back into the rotation after suffering a knee injury against Kentucky on February 14, knocked down a 3-pointer, with an assist from Jenkins.
Then, on the other end of the court, Foggie grabbed the rebound of a missed Missouri 3-pointer. Jenkins found Lister in transition, and Lister knocked down Vanderbilt's second 3-pointer in less than a minute to put Vanderbilt ahead 27-26.
Less than a minute after that, Foggie hit another 3-pointer to give the Dores a four-point lead at 30-26. Then over the next several minutes, Vanderbilt turned four steals into seven points. In all, after falling behind by seven points, the Dores went on an 18-0 run to take a 37-26 lead with 6:31 left in the game.
In the final minutes of the game, Missouri sent a parade of Dores to the free throw line. In the final 3:22 of the game, Vanderbilt attempted 20 free throws. As the primary ball handler, Jenkins went to the line 12 times and made the two that were Vanderbilt's final points in the 53-40 victory.
With the victory, Vanderbilt advances to the quarterfinals to play Kentucky. In the nightcap on Wednesday, LSU defeated Auburn, so the Lady Tigers also advance to the quarterfinals on Friday.
Quarterfinal action begins at 11 a.m. CT when Florida plays Tennessee, followed by South Carolina and Texas A&M. Vanderbilt and Kentucky are the first game in the evening session, followed by Georgia and LSU. Gametime for Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky is 5 p.m. CT.
Photos copyright 2013 by Whitney D. for VandyMania.com