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Ole Miss' Black returns to Gwinnett for SEC tourney

DULUTH — The timing, like the setting, couldn't be better for Shantell Black.

The Ole Miss senior will get a chance to cap her college basketball career at home before family and friends. Plus, the Arena at Gwinnett Center is a place where she has already had dreams come true.

SEC TOURNAMENT

Where: Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth

When: Today through Sunday

Defending champion: Vanderbilt

Ticket prices: $90 and $60 for tournament passes; $17 and $12 for individual sessions

TV: Fox Sports Net, ESPNU and ESPN2

Schedule

Today's first round

Noon - No. 8 South Carolina (14-14, 7-9) vs. No. 8 Ole Miss (16-13, 7-9)

2:30 p.m. - No. 7 Florida (14-15, 7-9) vs. No. 10 Auburn (14-15, 5-11)

6:30 p.m. - No. 5 Vanderbilt (20-9, 9-7) vs. No. 12 Arkansas (12-18, 4-7)

9 p.m. - No. 6 Georgia (22-7, 9-7) vs. No. 11 Alabama (12-18, 4-7)

"We won two state championships here," the former Collins Hill point guard said after a practice session Wednesday. "I have a lot of great memories. Hopefully, this arena will bring me good luck again."

Ole Miss will play South Carolina in the opening game at noon today as the Southeastern Conference Women's Basketball Tournament returns to Duluth.

Black was a freshman reserve when the tourney was first played in the Arena at Gwinnett Center in 2007. Now she is a three-year starter who hopes to help carry the Rebels deep into the event and possibly a return to the NCAA Tournament.

"She is one of our leaders now," Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner said.

Six players from Gwinnett County are coming home for the SEC Tournament, which runs through Sunday. Of those, Black has had the most distinguished career.

Just 5-foot-4, she has ranked in the top three in the SEC in assists each of her three years as a starter and this season is averaging 9.4 points per game.

"She's grown greatly as a player and as a young woman," Ladner said. "She's really assumed a leadership role for us."

"It's worked out great for me coming to Ole Miss," Black said. "We have a family atmosphere, which is what I was looking for. It's hard to believe that it has been four years. I don't want it to end."

Ole Miss made it to the NCAA Elite Eight when Black was a freshman, losing to eventual national champion Tennessee in a regional final. But the Rebels haven't been back to the NCAA Tournament since.

Ole Miss is 16-13 this season and was 7-9 in the SEC, just like first-round opponent South Carolina.

"Hopefully we can get on a roll here," Black said.

Black played in the Arena at Gwinnett Center during her final three seasons at Collins Hill, closing her career with back-to-back Class AAAAA state titles as a teammate of Connecticut All-American Maya Moore.

Jordan Jones, who will play for Florida in the second game today, was on that second state championship team with Black and won again the next season as a senior with Moore. That team finished unbeaten and was ranked No. 1 in the nation.

"When you get a player from a program like Collins Hill, you get someone with high expectations and great coaching," Ladner said. "They want to win and they now what it takes."

Black, who left Collins Hill with all the school's assist records, was an on-ball defensive specialist in her spot minutes as a freshman. Now she's a key offensive contributor while maintaining her defensive presence.

"I'm counted on a lot more offensively," said Black, who ranks among the Top 10 in SEC 3-point accuracy at 38.8 percent.

"She is a pivotal player for us with a lot of roles to fulfill," Ladner said.

Ole Miss lost in the SEC quarterfinals to LSU in 2007 when Black was a freshman. The Rebels will have to make it past that this year if Black's career is to conclude with a second NCAA Tournament trip.

"I hope playing here will be a good luck charm," Black said. "This arena was good to me in high school. I hope it will be good to (Ole Miss) this time."