By Mike Siroky
It is so easy to follow women’s college basketball.
The Southeastern Conference women’s teams kept the league elite in the latest week of competition.
But there are certainly things beyond the games that affect us all.
One of Kentucky’s opponents this week has had a direct impact from the Midwest tornadoes.
Bradley is in Peoria, Illinois. Central Illinois was devastated, even if Peoria itself was spared. East Peoria, Washington and Pekin, all adjacent communities, were leveled.
All Bradley teams have spent time working on cleanup. The game pales when real life intervenes. It is a life lesson beyond the court and scores.
In the true college attitude of sportsmanship and caring, Bradley reached out to an alumni who runs a T-shirt concern. He produced a shirt, “Central Illinois Strong,” which the Bradley women wore in the pre-game shootaround at Lexington.
They are for sale for $10. The money all goes to Red Cross relief efforts in the Midwest. The website: www.bradley.edu/tornadorelief.
Perhaps as a balance, the team did receive good news. Coach Michael Brooks missed the most important game of his young career and certainly of Bradley’s season, as he was delivered the birth of his son, Jase, on the eve of the game.
Now we resume our regular programming.
As the holiday seasons dawn for 2013, SEC teams are giving and giving and giving . . . mostly defeats to teams from other conferences.
The Associated Press ranked teams in the SEC are 35-1 so far; as an example of the SEC strength, Texas A&M is the third-best team in the conference, yet ranked better than any Big Ten team.
The best conference in America remains so until the conference showdowns start next month.
How those ranked team fared in a holiday week:•Kentucky:
The No. 7 Wildcats love beating teams from neighbor state Tennessee and the drubbing of Middle Tennessee State in its first road game of the season was no exception, an 84-72 walkover.
For what it’s worth, MT had won the past two meetings.
There is becoming a sense of regularity for UK this season. The same starters have worked every game. Super rookie Linnae Harper is the first off the bench.
Coach Matt Mitchell used all 11 players and nine scored, led by junior guard Bria Goss’ 16. For the fifth of six games, junior Jennifer O’Neill hit double figures, with 14, like Goss a season high. Senior Kastine Evans 5-of-7 from the field and 15 points.
Enough of the blue road uniforms, UK came right back to campus and demolished Bradley to move to 7-0. Kentucky has the best margin of victory in the league, better than 41 per game, and best turnover margin, more than 17 per game.
In the Bradley game, UK sprinted to a 59-32 halftime edge as senior center Samarie Walker had 10 rebounds to go with her 14 points.
It was time for Mitchell to start getting the bench playing time for those games in which they will really be needed.
The 117-77 win gave him plenty of opportunities. The Wildcats are 42-0 when passing 100 points. All 11 played and all 11 scored.
"Bradley wanted to play at a high pace, play fast and I thought they did some nice things," Mitchell said. “We had a good handle on that. That’s what they do and how they play. We anticipated a fast-paced game.
“We had some breakdowns with our press today that led to them getting into a good tempo. The entire Bradley team pushed the pace and they're a tough team to play against.”
Still, in a comparison with SEC and other leagues, Bradley is the best-scoring team in the Missouri Valley, exceeded their average by three and still couldn’t make a game of it.
Walker finished with 22 points, one of a half-dozen Wildcats in double figures. Next-best was O’Neill, with 14. Another reserve, Harper, had 10.
Sunday’s game with No. 4 Louisville is sold out, with 8,000 expected.•Tennessee:
Winless Oakland at No. 3 Tennessee finished about they way anyone would expect, 84-50.
Lady Vol coach Holly Warlick continues to play with her team’s minds. She benched three starts to start the second half and that caused a 21-0 runaway.
Starter and sophomore forward Bashaara Graves – not one of those benched, scored 15 with 11 rebounds. Senior guard Meighan Simmons – who was benched to start the second half -- scored 14.
“The second half, we settled down and we decided to play, but the sign of a great team is we’ve got to play 40 minutes,” Warlick observed. “We’re very capable of it. We’ve got the talent to do it. I’m just waiting for us to bust out and play the perfect game.”
Then they actually played on Thanksgiving Day at the Junkanoo Jam, in a high school gym in the Bahamas. They must have eaten well.
UT started out in typical sluggish fashion, behind by four at the break.
So distraught was Warlick that she picked up a technical with 2.9 seconds to go in the half. It added to her halftime fire. The three free throws also made the deficit more than one point.
"She said I disrespected the officials," Warlick said of the ref who called the T. "I didn't think I said enough. It's her opinion. Stupid on my part."
UT responded, with a 25-13 run to start the final minutes and held on, 76-67.
Simons hit eight 3-pointers and finished with 31, her season best by 17.
As we have said earlier, she’ll be the offensive motor once the SEC season starts. Junior point guard Ariel Massengale had 13 assists and 10 points as UT moved to 6-0.
"I like gyms like this," Simmons said. "I like warm kind of gyms. My energy is always there."
Simmons, who hadn't scored more than 14 points in a game this season, finished two off her career high.
"That's Meighan Simmons," said Massengale. "She's been having a tough time shooting, but shooters have to shoot their way out of it."
The defense shut Virginia down to 32 percent from the floor in the second half. Perhaps Tennessee is lucky that less than 500 fans showed.
They were to finish the Junkaroo then take a week off.•Texas A&M:
The No. 12 Aggies also played on Thanksgiving, but did so in the swell climate of the Virgin Islands, starting a tournament called the Paradise Jam.
No women players dunked, but A&M did jam up Memphis.
It was a six-point halftime lead and a little less in the second half, but it added up to a 10-point win.
Like so many of his league counterparts, coach Gary Blair is finding out about depth, as different players seem to step up each game. This time, it was Akiri Scott, with a career-high 19 and Karla Gilbert’s first double-double, 18 points and 14 rebounds.
We didn’t execute in the first half,” said Blair. “Their initial offense, we would stop, but we kept fouling when the play broke down. Aside from the breakaway layups, I thought we did a good job defensively in the second half.”
“We’ll take it as a win, and we have our hands full the next two games with good teams.”
They are 4-0. They play Texas and Syracuse before coming home for December.•South Carolina:
Finally out of state, the 17th-ranked Gamecocks
kept San Diego State winless.
Staying on the left coast holiday tour, the real challenge was supposed to be undefeated (but unranked) Southern Cal at their place.
Against San Diego State, freshman center Alaina Coates scored a game-high 21 on 5-of-6 from the field and 11-of-15 from the line, with a team-high eight rebounds.
Three other players for the Gamecocks (6-0) were in double digits including freshman guard Tiffany Mitchell with 17, sophomore swingman Asia Dozier with 16, and sophomore guard Khadjah Sessions with 12.
It was the sixth win of 20 or more points.
SC even helped San Diego State by scoring the first three of their points.
Game officials had the teams lined up to shoot at the incorrect baskets and sophomore guard Asia Dozier hit a 3, credited to the home team, once the kerfluffle was discovered and the teams redirected.
They moved onto L.A. and another 20-point win. If was Mitchell with a career-best 22 points (10-of-13 from the line), six rebounds, five steals and four assists as they moved to 7-0. A 40-26 second half did it. Welch had 14 points and six rebounds.
With five winnable games left before the league season starts, the real SC has a shot at being 12-0 by then. The best field goal percentage in the league (.496) helps a lot.•Georgia:
Georgia Tech, having already lost its national moxie against Tennessee, now has lost the braggin’ rights in state. The No. 22 Lady ’Dawgs continued the season-opening homestand with two more wins, Tech being first up.
Georgia won the first half by seven and only had to match the output in the second for a 63-56 win.
Senior guard Khaalidah Miller scored 20 and Schacobia Barbee 14.
The last of the home turkeys to be basted was South Carolina State.
Georgia, with the best field-goal percentage defense in the league, .265, stopped State and ran its opening record to 6-0. Ericka Ford scored a career-best 23, on 9-of-10 from the field. A 16-0 first-half run decided it early.
Tiaria Griffin had career-high 10 rebounds, with 16 points and nine assists.
“We didn't shoot it well tonight and didn't shoot it well from 3 (8-of-25),” said Georgia coach Andy Landers. “Erika shot it very well, but we got excellent 3-point shot attempts and didn’t knock them down.”
They did, however hit season highs as a team from the field (27-of-55) and free throw line (12-of-16), also getting 31 points off 20 forced turnovers. The backboards battle was won by Georgia as well, 35-23.
In keeping with the experimental theme of the pre-league season, Landers started freshman Halle Washington, the 74th rookie to start for Landers all-time and the second this season, following teammate Sydnei McCaskill.
“We’ve got to stop kicking the can down the road,” Landers observed.
“Turnovers were really a sore spot, especially the manner in which we got them. We're passing the ball to people where the ball is hitting them in the hands and they’re not catching them. There weren’t that many poorly thrown passes but to have 21 turnovers against a zone, against anybody, is inexcusable.
“This wasn’t an aggressive zone it was a passive zone. We called for the ball and passed it to the person that called for it and they didn't catch it.
“I’m glad Erika played well because honestly there’s not that many people you can say that about.”•LSU:
There was a time when Louisiana Tech was nationally feared with Dennis Rodman’s older sister Deborah was the best center in America.
Now, they also can’t even win the title of best in state.
Those were VHS days and this is a live-on-the-Internet era, with Tech’s best former player coaching Baylor to national titles.
No. 15 LSU took a nice 12-point halftime lead and each side scored 39 in the second half of an 81-69 LSU win. The defense held Tech to 29 percent from the field.
Guards Raigyne Moncrief (17 points) and Jeanne Kennedy (13) combined for 30. Kennedy had seven rebounds and Moncrief five as LSU moved to 3-1, all the games so far at home. It is the eighth straight win over Tech and finally gives LSU the all-time edge, 15-14.
It did get ugly in the fierce rivalry. A fight broke out among players, with 13 minutes left. Officials reviewed the video and ejected junior guard DaShawn Harden and sophomore guard Danielle Ballard of LSU and TyJae' Chenevert of Louisiana Tech.
Harden had been fouled during a rebound by Chenevert, then Ballard got involved when the two tussled, as did several players from each team
Ballard and Harden did not make the trip up North this weekend when LSU will open with Rutgers Friday and then meet either Texas Tech or Mchigan Saturday in the Battle of Brooklyn at the still relatively new Barclays Center, that is the home of the NBA Nets.
LSU coach Nikki Caldwell did say she didn't aggree with the penalty that occurred.
There were 65 fouls called in the entirety, with 48 free throws awarded.
“I was proud of our team for staying together,” said LSU coach Nikki Caldwell.
“Our bench gave us a tremendous spark. We stayed poised when adversity hit. Our team will grow from this type of game.”
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