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Gwinnett in line for future SEC women's tourneys

DULUTH - Having the Southeastern Conference Women's Basketball Tournament in the Arena at Gwinnett Center likely wasn't a one-shot thing.

After favorable reviews from fans and SEC officials, the four-day event could become a semi-regular part of the Gwinnett County sports calendar.

"I hope that this can become part of our rotation," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said Sunday night as Vanderbilt defeated LSU 51-45 for the tournament championship.

Not having Tennessee or Georgia in the title game cut into attendance, but a few extra empty seats didn't hurt the Arena at Gwinnett Center's chances of hosting the event again.

"We know that which teams make the championship game impacts attendance," Slive said. "Overall, we were very pleased.

"The hospitality was wonderful and people here should be very, very proud of this arena."

The SEC Women's Tournament will be held in Nashville next year. Sites for the following two tournaments are scheduled to be decided at the SEC's spring meetings, with North Little Rock, Ark., the likely spot for 2009. That would leave 2010 for Gwinnett.

"We would definitely like to get into the rotation and make the tournament a regular event here," said Chris Hendley, marketing director for the Gwinnett Center.

The Arena at Gwinnett Center is already part of the rotation for the SEC Gymnastics Tournament, which will be staged here for the third time in 2008. It was also at the Arena in 2004 and 2005.

"We'd like our relationship with the SEC to be as strong as possible," Hendley said.

The Arena at Gwinnett Center already has a top college event for 2009, playing host to first- and second-round games in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.

Although the attendance for the SEC title game between Vanderbilt and LSU was just 4,759, that didn't include unused tournament tickets.

Many Tennessee fans, which had packed nearby hotels and restaurants, headed home after the Volunteers were beaten by LSU in the semifinals Saturday night.

"I think it would have been full for the championship game if Tennessee and Georgia

hadn't lost," Hendley said.

The semifinal games Saturday night drew 10,142 - just under capacity. The crowd was the largest for the SEC semifinals since 2004.

Total attendance this year was 32,872, an average of 5,645 for the six sessions. That was lower than last year in North Little Rock, but better than in 2005 at Greenville, S.C.

The record is 7,274 set in 2003 at North Little Rock.

Having this year's tournament in Gwinnett meant a 550-mile trip for LSU, but the Tigers still brought a large and loud fan contingent.

"It wasn't too far to come," Peggy Sims, of Baton Rouge, said. "This is a real nice facility and I think it's just the right size.

"Everyone has been real nice and I've enjoyed it here."

Of course, Sims would have enjoyed the tournament even more if LSU hadn't lost in the title game.

"You always want your team to win," she said.

The championship was the third for Vanderbilt (28-5) in six years and the third straight time that LSU (26-7) had lost in the title game - by a total of nine points. The winner the previous two years was Tennessee.

At least LSU fans were happy until the last few minutes again, though.

"I haven't heard one person say anything bad about the experience here," Doris Rogers, of Nashville, said. "The arena is beautiful and all the free parking. That's great.

"I hope the tournament does come back here and I think it will."