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February 20, 2012

WBB: Gamecocks hunting for SEC tourney bye



South Carolina didn't help itself last week, when its competition for the final bye spots in the looming SEC tournament hurt themselves.

But there's always another chance just waiting around the corner.

Florida's upset of Georgia on Sunday knocked the Lady Bulldogs back into a four-way tie for third place in the SEC, along with USC, Arkansas and LSU. Each team has two games to play in the regular season.

Vanderbilt is at Kentucky tonight and if the Commodores win, they will also improve to 9-5 and create a five-way tie. Whether or not that happens, the Gamecocks are right back in the hunt to nab one of the four exemptions in the tournament's first round.

USC has already recorded improvements over last year in overall wins (20, opposed to 18) and in SEC wins (nine, opposed to eight). The Gamecocks are considered near-locks for the NCAA tournament but are always looking to strengthen their bid.

If USC heads into the SEC tournament, bye or not, with only eight losses, an NCAA tournament bid would be close to definite. A loss in the tournament would leave USC with single-digit losses and over 20 wins, more than enough criteria to nab a strong seed in the NCAA tournament.

But the Gamecocks would also like to do well in the SEC tournament, something that's been an albatross around the program's neck since it entered the league. USC has played in 20 SEC tournaments and won four games.

A bye obviously puts USC into the quarterfinals without playing a game, and only one win from the semifinals. Right now, USC would lose the bye due to Georgia, Arkansas and LSU having tiebreakers over it, but the Gamecocks do have two things in their favor.

One, they play Arkansas again with a chance to even the loss the Razorbacks handed them. USC hosts Arkansas on Sunday in the regular-season finale. Two, if Vanderbilt does beat Kentucky tonight, it favors USC in the tiebreaker because the Gamecocks won twice over the Commodores this season.

Still, USC will have to help itself. It plays at Kentucky on Thursday and hosts Arkansas to finish. The Gamecocks need to win and hope for some further help to get a top-four finish.

The remaining schedule for each of the tied teams:

ARKANSAS -- at Tennessee, at USC. The Razorbacks lost 69-38 to the Lady Volunteers earlier this year and whipped the Gamecocks 68-47.

GEORGIA -- hosting Ole Miss, hosting LSU. The Lady Bulldogs beat the Rebels 61-47 earlier this year.

LSU -- hosting Vanderbilt, at Georgia. LSU lost to the Commodores 81-72 earlier this year.

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