By JOANNE KORTH
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2001
WHERE: The Pyramid, Memphis, Tenn.
TV: Sunshine Network (quarterfinals, semifinals); ESPN2 (final).
FAVORITE: Tennessee (28-1, 14-0) seeks its fourth consecutive tournament title to match its four straight regular-season championships. The Vols have won 17 straight and regained the No. 1 ranking despite losing player of the year candidate Tamika Catchings to a knee injury in mid-January.
DARK HORSE: Keep an eye on No. 4 seed Vanderbilt. The Commodores (19-8, 8-6) muddled through a five-game losing streak midway through the conference schedule, but they took Tennessee to the wire 70-66 on the Vols' senior night and upset Georgia 71-65 in the finale. The bracket pits Vandy and Tennessee in the semis.
LOCKS FOR NCAA TOURNAMENT: Tennessee, Georgia (23-5), Florida (23-4), Vanderbilt and Louisiana State (18-9) are ranked among the Top 16 in the AP poll. The question is how many will be among the top 16 seeds and play at home in the first and second rounds.
ON THE BUBBLE: Arkansas (17-11), Alabama (17-10) and Auburn (17-11) will give the tournament selection committee fits. All had losing records in the SEC, so the SEC tournament will decide who gets the SEC's sixth NCAA bid.
WHAT UF HAS TO DO: Driven by backcourt tandem Tombi Bell and Brandi McCain, the 11th-ranked Gators are a talented ensemble team. They have the league's top rebounders in junior Naomi Mobley (9.4 rpg) and freshman Vanessa Hayden (8.9 rpg) and its leading three-point scorer in McCain (3.35 pg). But UF's greatest asset is grit. Hampered the past month by nagging injuries, it stubbornly found ways to win. Winning three games in three days will require even more determination.