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League tournaments open for former area standouts

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets guard Syndey Wallace (23) dribbles the ball as Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Lindsay Allen (15) defends in a game February 17. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets guard Syndey Wallace (23) dribbles the ball as Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Lindsay Allen (15) defends in a game February 17. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Conference tournament season is here for two local womens basketball teams and three former area athletes.

The Southeastern Conference Tournament begins tonight at the Arena At Gwinnett Center with a pair of opening-round games. Mississippi State, the No. 13 seed, and freshman Breanna Richardson (Rockdale) will play No. 12 seed Missouri in a first round game at 6 pm with the winner getting fifth-seeded Florida in Thursday’s second round.

Richardson finished the regular season averaging 9.1 points and 5.4 rebounds (second on the team) in 30 games (25 starts) for the Bulldogs, who enter the tournament 18-12.

Two former teammates at Alcovy High School will make their conference tournament debuts Thursday. Ashley Williams will help lead seventh-seeded Alabama when it plays No. 10 LSU in a second round game at 6 pm.

Williams has had an outstanding freshman season, leading the Crimson Tide in field goal percentage (50 percent) and rebounding (averaging 6.5), while adding a third-best 12.7 points.

Another former Tiger, Meagan Tucker, and sixth-seeded Auburn will play the winner of No. 11 Arkansas and No. 14 Mississippi Thursday at 8:30 pm. Tucker has appeared in 19 games (five starts) for the 16-13 Tigers and is third on the team with 49 assists, while adding an average of 3.4 points.

If Alabama and Auburn both win their first two tournament games, which would include upsets of No. 2 seed Tennessee and third-seeded Texas A&M, respectively, Williams and Tucker’s teams would meet in the semifinals Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Auburn swept both regular season games, including a double-overtime victory February 27 despite a career-high-tying 22 points from Williams.

Georgia will enter the tournament as the No. 9 seed and opens the Thursday session with a game against eighth-seeded Vanderbilt at 12 pm. The Bulldogs (19-10), who are led by Shacobia Barbee (team-leading 12.9 points and 8.2 rebounds), reached the tournament semifinals a year ago before losing 60-38 to Kentucky.

Texas A&M is the defending tournament champion, while South Carolina, which has never reached the tournament final, is the top seed.

The Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament opens today in Greensboro, North Carolina with three first round games. Georgia Tech (19-10), which closed the regular season with an 84-74 victory over Boston College Sunday to clinch the No. 7 seed, will play either the 15th-seeded Eagles again or No. 10 Virginia in a second round game Thursday at 6 pm.

Tech is 13-34 all-time in the ACC Tournament and last year lost to Wake Forest 86-67 in the first round. In 2012, the Yellow Jackets made just their second appearance in the tournament title game, losing to Maryland 68-65.

Notre Dame, fresh off a 29-0 regular season, is the tournament’s top seed. Duke is the defending champion.

In men’s tournament action, Bernard Thompson and Florida Gulf Coast will be looking to defend their Atlantic Sun title this week.

Thompson, a junior from Rockdale, leads the Eagles in scoring at 15.1 points. No. 1 seed Gulf Coast, which as a NCAA No. 15 seed last year advanced to the Sweet 16, played eighth-seeded Stetson Tuesday in a game that ended too late for this edition.

Newton graduate Stephen Croone will lead No. 10 seed Furman when it plays seventh-seeded Georgia Southern in the first round of the Southern Conference Tournament Friday at 1:30 p.m. Croone, a sophomore, leads the Paladins and is 41st nationally averaging 19.3 points.