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UGA takes winning streak into SEC tourney

A two-game winning streak doesn't seem like much for a team that started the season 16-0. For the Georgia women's basketball team though, it gives renewed hope at just the right time.

"I feel better," coach Andy Landers said.

The Bulldogs still face a tough task, however, as the Southeastern Conference Tournament comes to the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth for the second time.

Although No. 22-ranked Georgia ended in a four-way tie for third place with closing victories over South Carolina and Arkansas, the Bulldogs are just the sixth seed after losing out in all the tiebreakers.

That means that Landers' team doesn't get a first-round bye and will need three victories -- not just two -- to reach Sunday's championship game.

Georgia (22-7, 9-7) will play No. 11 seed Alabama at 9 p.m. Thursday in the final game of the opening day. A victory over the Crimson Tide (12-17, 4-12) would put the Bulldogs in the last quarterfinal game against No. 3 seed Mississippi State (18-11, 9-7) at 9 p.m. Friday.

There was one good thing about the seedings for Georgia. The Bulldogs can't face regular-season champion and perennial SEC power Tennessee (27-2, 15-1) before the championship game if both advance. The Volunteers are ranked No. 4 nationally.

Georgia's late-season struggles started after a 54-50 home upset of Tennessee on Jan. 21, handing the Volunteers their only SEC loss. But instead of getting a lift from the victory, the Bulldogs lost six of their next eight games before closing the regular season with the two victories.

"We're not happy about all the slipping and sliding we did," Georgia senior point guard Ashley Houts said.

But the Bulldogs hope that they have their footing again after the wins over South Carolina and Arkansas.

"This gives us some confidence and momentum," Houts said.

The Bulldogs will also be playing close to home, although the 10,309-seat Arena at Gwinnett Center hasn't felt like much of a home advantage on a couple of occasions.

Georgia fell behind early and lost to Vanderbilt 81-56 in the semifinals when the SEC Women's Tournament made its debut at the Arena in 2007 and dropped a first-round game to Arizona State 58-47 when the NCAA Tournament came to Duluth for the first time last year, with the Bulldogs as hosts.

Former Gwinnett County players are scattered around the SEC and all of them will be playing on Thursday since none of their teams drew first-round byes.

Anne Marie Armstrong, a freshman from Wesleyan, is a key reserve for Georgia, while Alabama features Courtney Strauthers, a senior from Shiloh.

Senior point guard Shantell Black of Collins Hill will be part of the noon opener on Thursday as her No. 9-seeded Ole Miss team plays No. 8 seed South Carolina. Then the 2:30 p.m. game will feature former Gwinnett players going against each other as No. 7 seed Florida plays No. 10 seed Auburn. Jordan Jones, a redshirt sophomore, is Florida's leading scorer, while freshman Blanche Alverson of Buford is a key reserve for Auburn.

In the first game of Thursday's second session, freshman Tiffany Clarke of Norcross will play for No. 5 seed Vanderbilt against No. 12 seed Arkansas at 6:30 p.m.

Four SEC teams are in the Top 25, with Kentucky and LSU joining Tennessee and Georgia. Kentucky is No. 19 and LSU is No. 21.

Vanderbilt is the defending champion and also won the SEC Tournament when it was first held in Duluth. The Commodores defeated LSU 51-45 in 2007 after upsetting No. 1 seed Tennessee in the semifinals.

The SEC Tournament was held at Nashville in 2008 and at Little Rock last season, when Vandy defeated Auburn 61-54. Tennessee defeated LSU 61-55 at Nashville in 2008.

The SEC Tournament will return to Nashville the next two seasons, then will be played in the Arena at Gwinnett Center again in 2013 and 2014.