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DeWanna Bonner led the Tigers with 21 points in the SEC tournament in Duluth, Ga., on Thursday, but Auburn fell 65-63 to South Carolina.
AP photo by Todd Van Emst
DeWanna Bonner led the Tigers with 21 points in the SEC tournament in Duluth, Ga., on Thursday, but Auburn fell 65-63 to South Carolina.

SEC WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT
Auburn can't hold lead

The Associated Press

DULUTH, Ga. — South Carolina rallied from a second-half deficit of 11 points to beat Auburn 65-63 on Thursday to win the opening game of the Southeastern Conference women's tournament.

A lay-up by Ilona Burgrova with 20 seconds left gave South Carolina a 64-63 lead. The final margin was South Carolina's biggest lead of the second half.

After Burgrova's basket, DeWanna Bonner missed from 8 feet for Auburn, and the scramble for the rebound led to a jump ball with 3.6 seconds left — giving possession to the Gamecocks.

Stacy Booker led South Carolina (17-13) with 14 points. Lakesha Tolliver had 12 points and Lauren Simms added 11 for the Gamecocks.

Bonner led Auburn (19-12) with 21 points. Keke Carrier added 14 points.

South Carolina and Auburn each posted 6-8 regular-season records in the conference.

The big lead for each team was only four points before Bonner sparked a 9-0 run with a three-point play. Auburn led 48-37 at the end of the stretch with 11 minutes left in the game.

South Carolina answered with a 17-6 run, including 8 straight points, to pull even at 54-54 with 6:07 left.

A basket by Melanie Johnson tied the game. Johnson, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds, scored again with 5:21 left to give South Carolina a 56-55 lead.

Bonner leads Auburn with her average of 15.1 points per game, but the sophomore was held scoreless in South Carolina's 70-61 win over the Tigers on Feb. 15 in Columbia, S.C. Bonner was 0-for-8 from the field.

Bonner needed only a few seconds to make sure she didn't repeat that scoreless performance in the postseason rematch. Bonner scored off the opening tipoff and had 10 points in the first half.

A basket by South Carolina's Brionna Dickerson late in the first half left the game tied at 27 at halftime.

Alexis Ogubie didn't play in the first half but had six points in the first seven minutes of the second half as the Tigers took a 44-37 lead.

Mississippi 78, Alabama 49: Mississippi didn't expect to be playing on the first day of the SEC tournament, but it was determined to make the most of the opportunity.

Ole Miss set a Southeastern Conference tournament record with 25 steals and Alabama topped the previous tournament high mark by committing 42 turnovers as the Rebels rolled to a 78-49 victory over the Crimson Tide on Thursday night.

Armintie Price scored 26 points as Ole Miss (21-9) advanced to Friday's quarterfinal game against Louisiana State.

Ole Miss fell out of a first-round bye and dropped to the No. 5 seed in the tournament by losing to Auburn in its final regular-season game.

"When that happened you've got to look for the silver lining, for the positive," said Ole Miss coach Carol Ross. "I love being here. ... I told the team 'We get to stay longer.' "

Alabama (10-20) finished its season with 15 straight SEC losses, including an 0-14 conference mark in the regular season.

From the start of the game, Ole Miss extended its defense, putting two or more defenders on the ball when possible.

"It's a great way to start a great tournament," Ross said. "Our defense ... was very effective with our deflections. Our speed and quickness really came into play."

The margin of victory would have been larger if not for poor free-throw shooting by the Rebels, who made only 12 of 27 attempts. Ole Miss committed 28 turnovers for a combined 70 giveaways by the two teams.

The Rebels, who led the SEC in the regular season with 13.4 steals per game and a plus-8.45 turnover ratio, forced 13 turnovers in the first eight minutes.

Alabama was last in the league with its minus-5.86 turnover ratio while averaging 24 turnovers per game. It saved its worst for last, setting a season high in giveaways.

"Obviously, it's been a very difficult season," said Alabama coach Stephany Smith. "The thing that has plagued us all SEC play was definitely an Achilles' heel tonight with the 42 turnovers."

The previous high mark for turnovers in an SEC tournament game was 36 by Alabama against Tennessee in 1989. The old record for steals in a game was 20 by Tennessee — against both Florida and Auburn in the 1980 tournament.

Dedrea Magee, one of three freshman starters for Alabama, was the Tide's only scorer in double figures with 15 points.

Kentucky 72, Arkansas 57: Jennifer Humphrey led a balanced attack with 21 points and Kentucky opened the second half with a 15-2 run to beat Arkansas.

Humphrey added 19 rebounds and eight assists, finishing two assists away from a triple-double.

Florida 69, Mississippi State 63: Marshae Dotson scored 25 points and No. 11 seed Florida claimed the first upset win of the SEC tournament by beating No. 6 seed Mississippi State.

The victory extended Carolyn Peck final season as Florida's coach. Peck was fired on Feb. 12, one day after the Gators' 13th straight loss — a 79-74 home loss to Mississippi State. Peck remained with the team as it won two of its last three regular-season games in the Southeastern Conference.

Sha Brooks added 16 points for Florida.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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