Mike Siroky's SEC Notebook: Kentucky Paces League Opening Domination
With No. 13 Kentucky's 74-66 win over No. 8 Baylor on Monday, the Southeastern Conference finished an overall 22-2 vs. America in the start of women's basketball.
The league has five in the Top 25 again as good as the ACC this week and just behind the six from the Big 10 that saw Purdue become part of a three way tie with Georgia and Gonzaga.
At Lexingon, discounted tickets made this an early "Pack the House" event.
Last year, UK played host to No. 2 Duke in the downtown Rupp Arena (they usually play in their own Memorial Auditorium) and set a single-season attendance record of 23,706, the largest crowd ever to see a college women’s hoops game in the Commonwealth and in the Top 10 largest regular-season attendance in NCAA history.
They drew 22,075 this time.
UK was down by 14 points (40-26) with 18:31 to play. It's the 10th-best comeback in UK history and the second-largest in the Matthew Mitchell era.
It was all about Jennifer O'Neill. She missed seven of her eight shots in the first half then scored 18 of her 22 points in the second half. Kentucky overcame the deficit a 21-7 run that tied it 47.
She scoffed the next five and UK was in cruise control.
Effervescent Baylor coach Kim Mulkey skipped her opening post-game statement, saying, "Y'all never write those anyway."
UK coach Mitchell said: "Well, that's a great win for us. We have a long way to go as a basketball team, but we learned a lot tonight and we have a lot of room for improvement. It's great to get into an atmosphere like this. I'm so appreciative of the fans for showing up tonight. It was an incredible atmosphere.
"I'm just really proud of our players. It was a very, very poor start to the game, and we came back and really played a tough 20 minutes there in the second half, and I'm very proud of them. We have a lot to learn, but this is a fun game to play in, and it was a great atmosphere. We're just so tickled that we were able to win."
•Tennessee was overburdened by the distraction of the joined athletic departments finally pulling the trigger on eliminating the Lady Vol brand.
Only basketball will carry it this season with a decision to drop it altogether only seasons away. Holly Warlick's team will enjoy it while they can and her lifetime (ever since high school in Knoxville with a few years off) association with it will make her the person with the longest link to it.
It has been explained to Pat Head Summitt – by Warlick and others – that basketball is the last to carry the logo.
Fighting early advanced Alzheimer's, she was recently seen in Cincinnati helping to present the United States Basketball Writer's Association's Most Courageous Award in her name to freshman Lauren Hill of Division III Mount St. Joseph's who is suffering from terminal brain cancer but achieved her goal to play in her collegiate opener, though Summitt did not speak during the halftime ceremonies.
At least one national writer, Christine Brennan, is in agreement with the move.
She thinks adding "Lady" in front of a team is demeaning. She says UT chickened out by leaving the basketball team alone for now.
Tennessee opened with a 97-52 victory over Penn, its largest margin of victory in an opener since 2005-06.
The Lady Vols had six in double figures and set a program record with four double-doubles in the same game.
Junior Nia Moore had a career-high 24 points and 14 rebounds (12-of-16 from the field), followed by junior Bashaara Graves (16 pts./10 rebs.), Isabelle Harrison (12 pts./10 rebs.) off the bench and freshman Alexa Middleton (20 pts./11 assts.).
Moore seems to be the designated scorer this season as she had 19 in the only exhibition, against nearby Carson-Newman, which is just across the Tennessee river from the Knoxville campus.
Middleton’s double-double by a guard was the first in UT’s history by a freshman.
Oral Roberts fell to the No. 4 Lady Vols on Monday night.
The win was a Big Orange Ticket Promotion, which meant everyone in attendance got a free ticket to another game with the win.
The team was without several suspended players –all for violation of team rules.
Before this, Moore had been injured and averaging one basket per game.
"[Nia] has had that capability," Warlick said. "I think just floor experience, just getting out there and playing [helped her]. I think Nia is capable of putting up good numbers every night.
"She got hurt, she got behind. She came in late, she got behind," Warlick said. "I think, this year, you're seeing a healthy Nia Moore who has been through the summer working out, and, now, you see the result of her putting in the extra time and work."
And so it continued in Game 3.
Moore led the No. 4 Lady Vols to a 91-39 win Monday night over Oral Roberts with 20 points (9-of-15 from the field), nine rebounds and four blocks.
Ariel Massengale scored 21 for Tennessee to end a long layoff.
She missed the final 16 games of the 2013-14 season with a head injury and was suspended before the start of this one for missing class.
Cierra Burdick served the final half of a two-game suspension for missing curfew. But now Harrison is out for an indefinite time with an undisclosed leg injury. Previously, she had been coming off the bench after being flushed by the flu.
Their absences didn't matter.
Oral Roberts (0-2) shot 25 percent overall, 1-of-16 from 3-point range. Tennessee also forced 30 turnovers in the game.
The Lady Vols started on a 10-0 run and ran that advantage to a 25-6 lead midway through the first half after Graves sparked a 9-2 spurt with consecutive mid-range jumpers. She had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Moore spurred a 16-2 close to the first half with eight points in that span, including a steal and transition layup with eight seconds left in the half.
Oral Roberts hadn't recorded its 10th point until 8:27 remained in the first half.
"It was great to see Massengale and Andraya Carter back. So, they're just adding depth and strength to our lineup," Warlick said. "Happy for the win, still can work a lot on a couple things. We tried to work on our zone today and it was average, but we just hadn't really been working on it but pleased with how we attacked on the offensive end."
•No. 5 Texas A&M, which went furthermost in last season's NCAAs, enlarged their Chicago-area recruiting scope by coming to No. 18 DePaul and winning, 78-68 and then talking out New Mexico, 66-53.
With a home win over UT-Pan American, they are the 3-0, the eighth time in the most-recent nine seasons.
"After that performance for three games we're overrated," said coach Gary Blair. "We've got a lot of basketball IQ problems that we need to improve on.
"Courtney Walker finally started moving and penetrating and getting some looks. She started directing traffic, but she's got to (also) do it in the first half."
Rookie Khaalia Hillsman, starting in her hometown of Chicago, scored 10. Guard Walker, the SEC's best, averaged 20.7 points per game over the opening weekend. With 10 more, she'll have scored 1,000.
•South Carolina, the efending league champion, welcomed the other SC and the Pac 12 started off 0-1 vs. ranked teams. The real SC will raise the conference champion banner and NCAA Sweet 16 banner this week in the home opener.
Against the Women of Troy, South Carolina eased to a 70-61 victory over Southern Cal, backed by their first 10,000 fans of the season.
South Carolina’s veterans took over with a 14-0 run towards the close, then All-America Tiffany Mitchell hit four straight free throws to hold it.
Alaina Coates started her second season with 18 points on 6-of-8 from the field, 6-of-6 from the line and 13 rebounds. Junior Tina Roy at point guard came off the bench with hit 3-of-5 on 3s in 25 minutes, with six assists three steals.
"It was a great game for us," said coach Dawn Staley. "Winning by 75 points, you don't learn a whole lot of lessons from it. When we beat a team like Southern Cal, it opens your eyes.
"I hope that our young players understand that when you take this leap to the next level, it is very important that you play every possession. It's important that you pay attention to detail and that you're aware of what is going on out there. It'll take them some time to make that adjustment.
"Fortunately for us, we've got some players that have been in situations like this, and when we need them, we'll call their number and they will come through for us.
•The Wildcats of Kentucky had opened the season with a win over over Appalachian State. Senior guard Jennifer O’Neill led seven players in double figures with 20 points, while also recording eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. She now needs five points to reach 1,000 for her career.
Sophomores Linnae Harper, 17 points, and Makayla Epps, provided bench strength.
Senior Azia Bishop scored 14 and had a team-high nine rebounds and sophomore Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, who sat out last season, scored 11, with six rebounds and a team-high four blocks.
•Georgia, always-dangerous (and back in the poll at No. 24) was also at home but Morgan State (68-46) and TCU (62-53) were merely Bulldog chew toys.
This week's games at always improving Big Ten Ohio State and instate NCAA rival Georgia Tech of the ACC will be a real test.
Andy Landers needs but five wins to move his longevity record to 850 at Athens.
"I thought we opened the game reasonably well and we faltered midway through the half," Landers said. "We just made too many turnovers and misconnected on passes and catches that would have led to lay ups.
"And as we did that, as it often does, the offense affects the defense. They got done what they wanted to get done."
Tiaria Griffin scored a game-high 20 against Morgan State. Krista Donald and Shacobia Barbee both posted double-doubles in the TCU game.
•LSU kept their schizophrenic team results of last season in progress, playing at home against Arkansas Little Rock and then Sam Houston State and splitting. The Lady Tigers won, 71-45, over Sam Houston State and lost by a similar margin, 70-54, to Arkansas-Little Rock.
Through two games, LSU has outrebounded the foes by a plus-13 margin. Raigyne Moncrief, an All-SEC Freshman team performer last season, picked right up with 13.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, including 11-of-15 from the line.
Losing in opening play were 1-1 Alabama, by 50, to No. 7 Duke and 1-1 LSU.
Also winning two were Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State. Winning their openers are Auburn, Florida, Missouri.
Mike Siroky has been covering women's college basketball since an undergraduate at Indiana in 1975.
He was covering the SEC when the NCAA took over the women's game from the AIAW.
He and Mel Greenberg have been friends since Mel started the Associated Press poll and there were few writers interested enough in the women's game to help. Yes, they are old.
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