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Top-tier showdowns begin now

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Posted: Wednesday January 31, 2001 2:36 AM


By Seth Traub, Special to

The countdown to March Madness has begun and in the SEC that means its crunch time.

Each of the five teams at the top of the standings face another from that group at least once.

And although no game in the SEC -- the top-ranked conference in this week's RPI -- can be considered easy, Florida has the toughest schedule ahead.

Everything can change in the month of February and it starts this week with two big rivalry games on Thursday -- both rematches from earlier this season.

Vols number one in RPI

Tennessee hasn't missed a step after losing senior Tamika Catchings, and is on the way to another NCAA Tournament birth. But looking past February won't be easy for the Vols, who still face four teams in the Top-25.

It all begins with Connecticut.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said this is a "fun game," and that there is nothing at stake. In Knoxville this time around, this game probably won't mean much to the national rankings and the losing team could have a leg-up on motivation should these two meet in a Tournament game.

"Every time we play we want to win," Tennessee coach Pat Summit said. "February 1 is not a time to place added pressure on a team, but it is a great way to measure the progress we have made since the last game in front of a packed house."

Summit also said she likes this rivalry and it is good for women's basketball as a whole, but she is concerned with the two teams meeting three times in one season.

"The possibility of meeting three times in one year psychologically concerns me," she said. "Sometimes the team with the better talent loses the game because they are psyched out before they step on the court."

The Vols' three biggest games of this month are all on the road: at Florida on the 11th, at LSU on the 18th, and at Vanderbilt on the 22nd.

Gators taking bite out competition

The Gators have snuck up on a lot of opponents this year and even Summit said Florida was a surprise team to see in the top-10.

But the Gators don't think they're a surprise, and they are out for blood.

For them, a rematch with Georgia begins a stretch of five of their last seven games in Gainesville.

The last time these two teams met, the game was neck and neck, with the Bulldogs going on a 15-0 run to close the game.

Florida has been thinking of this rematch ever since.

The seniors on the Gator squad are the only players to experience a win against Georgia -- in 1998 -- but most of them don't remember since they weren't playing.

The only Florida player to win against the Bulldogs while playing is senior Tamara Stocks. She was 18-years-old then, and celebrated her 23rd birthday on Monday.

Advantage one: The Gators' Vanessa Hayden has come into to her own in conference play. She is the Gators' first -- and sometimes only -- option off the bench and is playing with the best of the power posts.

Advantage two: The Bulldogs are still down forward Deanna Nolan and guard Camille Murphy. Both were injured in the last meeting between these two teams.

The Gators' schedule gets no easier after Georgia, but their toughest matchups are in Gainesville.

Vanderbilt visits on the 4th, Tennessee on the 11th and Louisiana State on the 22nd.

Coco assists Kelly for consecutive free throw record

No the officials did not mistake one Miller twin for another during Georgia's win against Mississippi last week.

Kelly Miller broke the Bulldog record for consecutive free throws by going 4-for-4 from the line. But the 35th and 36th were meant for her sister.

After being fouled, Coco Miller was forced out of the game by a cut on her arm which bled onto her uniform. Kelly Miller entered the game and hit both free throws.

The previous record was 35 by Lisa O'Conner in 1984-85.

Seth Traub is a reporter for the Independent Florida Alligator, the student paper that serves the University

Seth Traub is a reporter for the Independent Florida Alligator, the student paper that serves the University of Florida.

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