SEC championship: 5 things to watch

Warlick

DULUTH, Ga. -- Sunday afternoon against the Kentucky Wildcats, the Tennessee Lady Vols will attempt to win their 17th SEC tournament title.

Also up for grabs for Tennessee: a shot at a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. Sunday's game (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. EST) features a pair of the SEC's most successful programs in recent years, although both teams have struggled at times throughout this season.

Here are five things to watch for in Sunday's title game.

Riding high. Which program will maintain its momentum? Tennessee is ranked No. 6 in the country, but during a one-week stretch in January, the Lady Vols lost to unranked Vanderbilt and were beaten handily by Notre Dame. Still, with a win Sunday, it's likely the Lady Vols would earn a top seed for the NCAA tournament as the best team out of the SEC. Kentucky, meanwhile, started the season 11-0 but went 8-7 during the heart of its season. Both of these teams have proven they can beat anybody, but they aren't immune to dips in performance, either.

Balance or explosion? Saturday, the Wildcats defeated top-seeded South Carolina despite no player scoring more than 14 points. Kentucky had eight players in the scoring column and four in double figures, but nobody went off. (These well-balanced numbers are nearly identical to Kentucky's season statistics.) But Sunday, the Wildcats are going to need one of their post players, either DeNesha Stallworth or Samarie Walker, to rack up bigger numbers. Kentucky likely can't win this game without a big performance -- at least 15 points -- from one of its post players.

Containing Harrison. The difference-maker for Tennessee on Saturday was center Isabelle Harrison, who scored 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the Lady Vols' win against No. 4 seed Texas A&M. Harrison will have her hands full against Kentucky's front line, which can match her speed and athleticism, but it likely will be Harrison pressing things on the offensive end.

Tennessee's X factor. Cierra Burdick, Cierra Burdick, Cierra Burdick. Tennessee's smooth starting forward absolutely does all of the small things to help the Lady Vols win. Saturday, she played 35 minutes and finished 4-for-9 from the floor with nine points and 10 rebounds. Burdick seemed to always come up with the ball -- especially on the offensive glass -- when it mattered most. Look for her to play big Sunday.

And on the Kentucky side ... Keep your eyes on backup guard Jennifer O'Neill. Saturday; she played 23 minutes and scored seven points on 3-for-6 shooting. O'Neill actually leads Kentucky in scoring (12.7 ppg) despite playing only 24 minutes a game. She is capable of making a slew of outside shots in short order, so if she heats up, Kentucky can swipe this one from Tennessee and set itself up nicely for the NCAA tourney.

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