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SEC Women's Basketball Tournament brings local players home

Norcross grad Tiffany Clarke, middle, celebrates with Vanderbilt teammates after Sunday's upset of No. 10 Texas A&M.

Norcross grad Tiffany Clarke, middle, celebrates with Vanderbilt teammates after Sunday's upset of No. 10 Texas A&M.

TOURNEY SCHEDULE

Southeastern Conference Women's Basketball Tournament

At the Arena at Gwinnett Center, Duluth

Tourney Schedule

Wednesday

6 p.m. — Mississippi State vs. Alabama (Fox Sports South)

Thursday

Noon — Arkansas vs. Florida (SportSouth)

2:30 p.m. — South Carolina vs. Miss. State/Alabama winner (SportSouth)

6 p.m. — Vanderbilt vs. Missouri (SportSouth)

8:30 p.m. — LSU vs. Auburn (SportSouth)

Friday

Noon — Tennessee vs. Arkansas-Florida winner (SportSouth)

2:30 p.m. — Texas A&M vs. SC/Miss St./Alabama (SportSouth)

6 p.m. — Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt-Missouri winner (Fox SportSouth)

8:30 p.m. — Georgia vs. LSU-Auburn winner (Fox SportSouth)

Saturday

4 and 6 p.m. — Semifinals (ESPNU)

Sunday

6 p.m. — Finals (ESPN2)

This week's Southeastern Conference Women's Basketball Tournament at the Arena at Gwinnett Center will be a significant one for a few noteworthy reasons — it's the first since the league added Missouri and Texas A&M and it's the first since legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt retired.

For a few players, the tourney's is even more special because of its location.

It will be a homecoming week for six Gwinnett grads now playing in the SEC as the event comes to Duluth for the third time after previous stops in 2007 and 2010. It would have been seven locals playing if not for season-ending shoulder surgery to Tennessee freshman Andraya Carter, a Buford grad.

Vanderbilt's Tiffany Clarke (a Norcross grad), Auburn's Blanche Alverson (Buford), Georgia's Anne Marie Armstrong (Wesleyan) and Kaelyn Causwell (Wesleyan), as well as two Peachtree Ridge grads now at Alabama, Brittany Jack and Erika Waters, will all return to the county where they played high school basketball.

Both Alverson and Clarke enter the tourney on highs, particularly Alverson, who scored a career-high 32 points in Auburn's season-ending win over Mississippi State.

The senior has high hopes for the 11th-seeded Tigers, who play LSU at 8:30 Thursday night in the tourney opener.

"I think going into the tournament, we need to have confidence in ourselves," Alverson said after the season finale. "We've competed with mostly every team in this conference. We've had a tough road schedule, so to play teams that we've lost to, we get to play them on a neutral floor, and we're looking forward to that. This (season-ending) win is just going to roll over, and we've had a great game today, so we're going to take that confidence we've built today and take it over to Atlanta."

While Vandy ended the season with a disappointing loss to Georgia, Clarke has been at her best late in the season. Prior to the UGA game, the 6-foot senior had 26 points in a win at Florida, 30 points in a victory over Texas A&M and 22 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Alverson's Auburn squad.

Clarke averages team highs of 16.5 points and 8.3 rebounds and is an important leader for a young Commodores team, the No. 7 seed which plays its first tourney game Thursday at 6 p.m. vs. 10th-seeded Missouri.

Georgia (24-5) is one of the four SEC teams who get a bye into Friday, when Armstrong, Causwell and their teammates will play the LSU-Auburn winner at 8:30 p.m. The Bulldogs have been good at home this season (15-1), so they hope to turn the Gwinnett arena into a home-court advantage as well.

Armstrong, a first-team All-SEC selection last season, has missed some time with an ankle injury and averages 6.9 points and 4.8 rebounds.

Jack and Waters will kick the SEC tourney off Wednesday night at 6, when 13th-seeded Alabama takes on No. 12 seed Mississippi State. It's the only game Wednesday, with the winner moving onto a 2:30 p.m. game Thursday against No. 5 seed South Carolina.

The top seed is Tennessee (23-6), while the No. 2 seed is Kentucky, one of only two SEC teams to beat the Volunteers this season.

The orange-clad Tennessee contingent has represented a large portion of the SEC tourney crowd in the past, and it has been that way whether the tourney was in Gwinnett or in Nashville, where it was played the past two years.

The first post-Summitt SEC tourney appearance by the Volunteers will put more focus on new head coach Holly Warlick, a longtime Summitt assistant, but she has handled that scrutiny all season.

"I've been very fortunate to work for Pat for 28 years and play for her as well," Warlick said Monday. "I'm never going to be able to compare myself to Pat Summitt. There's only one Pat Summitt. I just have been focused on one game at a time. I just want this team to get better. I have an unbelievable staff and I think that's one thing Pat did teach me, surround yourself with great people."

After Wednesday's single game, the SEC slate features four games on Thursday and four more on Friday before the semifinals Saturday at 4 and 6 p.m. The championship game is set for Sunday at 6 p.m.