Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Wide Open SEC Race Thunders Into The Home Stretch
The Southeastern Conference women’s basketball championship is up for grabs.
With precious few games left before the post-season conference tournament starts on March 6, no one has seized control.
If Kentucky wins, it will have established itself as a new favorite, repeating last season’s regular-season success. They had won an SEC title only once before.
Georgia, with the longest-serving conference coach, longs to reclaim its role as a team that matters. Tennessee, despite a new coach, wants to show tradition in transition. South Carolina can grab a measure of respect, building on last year’s tradition-breaking surge. Texas A&M seeks to be the first team to win conference in its first year of competition since the NCAA sanctioned the league
If there are to be six teams from the SEC once again in the NCAAs, the most likely suspect is Missouri, the other newcomer.
This past week’s games showed the level of play has matured well.
And UK visits A&M on the coming Sunday, with a season-ending game of the ’Cats vs. Tennessee still on the to-do-list.
THE RANKED SEC TEAMS
•No. 12 Tennessee at LSU could have been a trap game, coming after the Lady Vols lost at Missouri, setting the Tigers up to win six of their final seven. LSU was an NCAA qualifier last season. This season, not so much. Ole Miss, always a not so much team, then visited Knoxville.
Tennessee was coming off the skid at Missouri and didn’t do much to alleviate fans’ fears. The Lady Vols stayed in first in conference by playing lowly Auburn even in the second half and making a two-point intermission advantage stand up. Two players, Meighan Simmons (18 points) and Bashaara Graves (16) scored more than half the points. LSU was underperforming at only 4-6 in conference.
At home again, the Lady Vols wasted Mississippi for the 28th straight time as Simmons led all five starters in double figures. Graves – the player coach Holly Warlick says is the most consistent -- had 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Warlick has always preached that defense wins games, even though they lead the conference in scoring (78.3). So what they need to do now is tighten up on that defense. UT, tied with Texas A&M in conference losses with one each, has a chance to win the next three before A&M visits and the season ends at Kentucky.
•No. 10 Kentucky opened its week at unranked Arkansas and continued at unranked Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks, 3-7 in conference and 1-5 against ranked teams, have been mentioned by some not really paying attention – bracketologists? -- as an NCAA team.
UK needed OT to win against Arkansas as their February doldrums continued in a lackluster effort. Bria Goss had to score 16 of her 17 after intermission, including seven in OT, as UK won its 20th.
They dominated Vanderbilt, also on the road. Kentucky welcomes in South Carolina on Valentine’s Day and plays at Texas A&M four days later in a great week of competition.
•Another trap was set for No. 9 Georgia, the highest-rated league team, hosting Auburn and then going to LSU.
Against Auburn, Georgia once again lost the second half but hung on to win by three. Jasmine Hassell scored 15.
The War Eagles, 2-8 in conference, might have made the difference had they hit better than 20 percent form the line. They missed them all in the final minutes. And 22 turnovers gave the ’Dawgs 21 points. It was Auburn’s seventh straight loss.
Then, proving they are Georgia – that is, inconsistency is their only consistency – they bottomed out in a loss at lowly LSU, a team under .500 in conference. The ’Dawgs have three SEC losses and are in third place, tied with South Carolina.
This time, they lost both halves. Georgia coach Andy Landers said they were not “locked in,” or mentally ready, from the start.
Georgia has absolutely no reason to lose any of the rest of the season, making it doubly difficult heading into the post-season. They ought top make their 20th Sweet 16. What they do after that is the eternal question. They have not won a Regional in this century.
They join Kentucky and South Carolina as the first three with 20-win seasons, the 20th in Landers’ 28 seasons as coach.
•No. 14 Texas A&M, as high in the rankings as it has been all season, continues its push with national All-America and conference Player-of-the-Year candidate Kelsey Bone.
The Aggies only had one game and that against South Carolina. They sleep-walked through a 50-48 game. At home, the Gamecocks won the second half by four, which tells you they lost the opening segment by six. Kelsey Bone kept her campaign alive for league Player of the Year honors with 13 points and 15 rebounds for the Aggies.
This sets up UK-A&M as the game of the week, perhaps the conference game of the year, at home on Sunday. Kentucky had two leagues losses, A&M the one at Lexington. A&M can warm up with lowly Florida. UK has South Carolina midweek. A&M makes Tennessee’s season close especially tough by visiting in the next-to-last game of the season.
•No. 15 South Carolina opened its week as it edged past lowly Alabama (2-8 in conference) but also hit a 20-win season, the first back-to-back in decades. They had a six-game win streak, then best in conference, ended.
Their defense remains tight, leading the league at allowing 47 per game, which was almost enough to down A&M. The Gamecocks are at UK on Valentine’s Day.