While Cuonzo Martin and company hosts in-state rival Vanderbilt this Saturday, Pat Summitt and her Lady Vols (21-8, 12-4 SEC) will be in Nashville in search of a third consecutive SEC tournament title.

UT’s last two teams both entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed with respective SEC records of 16-0 and 15-1.

Tennessee will receive a first-round bye, but Thursday’s 72-71 loss to Arkansas relegated the Lady Vols to the No. 2 seed this year.

“Did it cost us a co-SEC championship? Absolutely,” associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “But it is what it is, and we’ve got to move on and focus on what we’re doing right now.”

After Sunday’s 75-59 victory over Florida, UT’s attention turned to Friday’s 3:30 p.m. tip-off against the winner of Thursday’s Mississippi State vs. Vanderbilt game.

“It’s a new season,” Warlick said. “You’ve got the SEC tournament, you’ve got the NCAA tournament and it’s a new season.”

Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena is hosting the event for a second consecutive year.

In 2011, 11,150 fans saw the Lady Vols defeat Kentucky 90-65 in the championship game.

Senior guard Shekinna Stricklen scored 16 points, going 5-of-6 from 3-point range.

“I feel great about it,” Stricklen said about returning to Bridgestone Arena. “I feel like we had the home-court advantage with our fans. Clearly we had the most fans there. I feel like it’s going to be the same this year.”

A Feb. 9 trip to Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym resulted in a 93-79 loss for the Lady Vols. The Commodores’ offensive output was the largest by any SEC team against UT this season.

If Vanderbilt (21-8, 9-7) wins its opening-round game on Thursday, a rematch will be in store for Friday’s quarterfinal matchup.

“I feel really confident in this team that things are turning around,” Stricklen said. “We know teams are really gunning after us.”

One aspect that could look different for the Lady Vols is the starting lineup.

After Sunday’s senior day victory when all five UT seniors started, Warlick speculated on the possibility of allowing the seniors to start in the postseason.

“Right now they’re our starting five unless it proves something different in practice the next couple of days,” Warlick said.

The lineup consisting of Briana Bass, Stricklen, Alicia Manning, Glory Johnson and Vicki Baugh accounted for 47 points against Florida.

Senior forwards Glory Johnson and Alicia Manning posted 21 and 16 points, respectively, in their final game at Thompson-Boling Arena.

“I’m not going to say it’s dead-set,” Warlick said. “But it was a great group to start the game.”

“Your first couple of games you understand the importance of substitution and a strong bench,” Warlick said. “With the possibility of playing three games in a row it’s very difficult, so I think we’re very aware of that. We try to use our bench the first couple of games, and really all through the tournament, because it’s hard for a player to play 40 minutes three games in a row.”

If the bracket plays out with the top seeds advancing to Sunday, UT would play Kentucky in the title game for a third consecutive year.

“Going for a three-peat is going to be hard,” Stricklen said. “But I feel like we can do it.”