GREENVILLE, S.C. -- After another illustration of Tennessee's inconsistent season - a 72-64 upset at the hands of Alabama in the second round of the SEC Tournament on Thursday - Lady Vol Mercedes Russell was posed with a question many have been asking this season. How does Tennessee manage to beat so many top teams, but then ultimately fall to lesser teams?
"It's obviously very frustrating because our play is so up-and-down," Russell said. "Sometimes we play so good, then we come back against a team like Alabama. We think it's okay to not play our best. That really hurt us at times. We've been high and low. We can't play like that."
Tennessee's season has been a roller coaster. The Lady Vols have four wins over top 10 teams, including an 18-point road win at No. 3 Mississippi State last week. The Vols also have four losses to the bottom half of the SEC, including two to No. 12-seed Alabama. The latest, coming on Thursday, dropped the Vols from a No. 6 to No. 7 seed in ESPN.com bracketologist Charlie Creme's projections.
Regardless, Tennessee knows it will have to refocus for the final stage of the season. That isn't new territory, after all. Last year, the Lady Vols advanced to the Elite Eight after an up and down regular season.
"We're going to have to keep our heads high and move forward," Russell said. "Obviously we lost. This postseason for us is over. We still have the (NCAA) tournament to look forward to. We're just going to have to continue to get better, practice every day, look ahead."
Block party for Alabama freshman Knight
A major factor in Alabama advancing to Friday's quarterfinals was freshman center Ashley Knight. Knight scored 10 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked six shots in 25 minutes off the bench in the Crimson Tide's win over Tennessee on Thursday.
It was another indication of the strides Knight is making in her freshman season. In the Crimson Tide's first meeting against Tennessee on Feb. 16, Knight did not accumulate a point, rebound or block in 10 minutes. Knight has been instrumental in Alabama reaching the SEC Tournament quarterfinals for the first time since 2005.
"She has only scratched the surface with the potential that she has," Alabama coach Kristy Curry said. "(She) has a chance to be a very, very great player by the time she leaves Alabama."
Auburn loss moves them onto bubble
Auburn will have an anxious wait for Selection Monday after it lost 56-52 to Georgia in the first game of Thursday's second round. Creme moved the Tigers back to his first team out after the defeat. Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy made a case for her squad to earn an at-large bid after Thursday's game.
"We had a great nonconference. We played some of the best teams in the country," Williams-Flournoy said. "Our RPI is extremely high. Our strength of schedule was very tough. I mean, we're at least in the 40s of our RPI, even higher in our strength of schedule."
The field for the NCAA women's tournament will be announced at 7 p.m. on March 13.
This is the first time since 1993 that Tennessee lost its opening game at the SEC Tournament. ... Alabama's 19 wins are the most it has had in a season since 2001-02. ... When Georgia faces No. 5 South Carolina, it will be searching for its first win over a top-5 team since 2010. ... Texas A&M has now won 20+ games for the 12th straight season, which is currently the second-longest streak in the SEC, behind only Tennessee.