Staff Photo: John Bohn Alabama players Brittany Jack (30) and Erika Waters (15), both former Peachtree Ridge players, celebrate a 63-36 victory over Mississippi State in the opening game of the 2013 SEC Women's Basketball Tournament, played at the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Wednesday.
DULUTH --It's been a long, frustrating season, and an even longer run of Southeastern Conference Women's Basketball Tournament futility, for Alabama.
Both were forgotten Wednesday night when the league's tourney kicked off at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
The 13th-seeded Crimson Tide, playing inspired defense from the start, defeated 12th-seeded Mississippi State 63-36 and advanced to today's 2:30 p.m. matchup with No. 5 seed South Carolina. The win snapped Alabama's 10-game losing streak and gave the program its first victory in the SEC tourney since the 2004-05 season.
It was an even sweeter day for two Bama players, Peachtree Ridge grads Brittany Jack and Erika Waters, who played their first-ever games at the Gwinnett venue and had more than 40 supporters in the stands between them.
"We were pretty inspired because we played Mississippi State at Mississippi State earlier this season and got beat pretty badly," Jack said. "We just came together as a team and we decided that the postseason is an entirely new season. We're 0-0. We came out there and got the win."
Alabama (13-17) hardly entered the tourney opener with momentum, carrying its long losing streak and only two SEC victories all season. It also faced a matchup with a tall Mississippi State program led by the SEC's top rebounder, 6-foot-4 Martha Alwal.
Alwal and the Bulldogs dominated the Crimson Tide inside in the teams' first meeting this season, winning 75-51. But that wasn't the case Wednesday.
Up just 23-17 at halftime, Alabama dominated the second half for a blowout victory. When Jack hit a late 3-pointer and Waters added two free throws, it gave their team its largest lead at 29 points.
Mississippi State made just 22.6 percent of its shots and tied a record for fewest points in the tourney.
"The players did a great job of doing what we asked them to do," Alabama head coach Wendell Hudson said. "They were not ready to go home. We really played hard as a team, played together and rebounded the ball well against a much taller team."
Despite size disadvantage, Alabama had a 30-12 edge in points in the paint. It also had 13 steals, many leading to transition baskets.
Meghan Perkins (17 points) and Daisha Simmons (13 points, 10 rebounds) had big games for the Crimson Tide, as did Jasmine Robinson (nine points, 10 rebounds, five steals).
Jack, coming off the bench, had a big steal and rebound late in the first half, while Waters got her minutes late when the game was in hand.
"It's so special because I never played here for the state championships in high school because we never got here," Jack said. "It was great to get the win here at home."
What: SEC Women's Basketball Tournament
Where: Arena at Gwinnett Center
Noon --Arkansas vs. Florida
2:30 p.m. --South Carolina vs. Alabama/Mississippi State
6 p.m. --Vanderbilt vs. Missouri
8:30 p.m. --LSU vs. Auburn