Mike Siroky's SEC Report: South Carolina Bolts to the Top
By Mike Siroky
Georgia celebrated its return to the Top 25 with a major out-of-conference road win at the Big Ten's Ohio State and a home road win – for state braggin' rights –against the ACC's Georgia Tech.
All the ranked teams in the Southeastern conference of women's basketball won this past week through Monday.
South Carolina ascended to its highest ranking ever, at No. 1.
If anyone thinks that is going to last, send your bets to me.
But, still, the SEC has six rankled teams, more than any conference, and once again claims dominance in the women's game. The SEC is 49-9 against America right now.
•No. 1 SC is 3-0 once again and should not be challenged until Dec. 7 at Duke.
Their fan base is finally alive, turning out at better than 10,000 per game.
They have been consistent in this start, averaging 94.0 points on 51.8 percent shooting, including half of their 3s.
"I feel really good about what our team has been able to accomplish,'' coach Dawn Staley said. "This is not a goal that we had set, but it is a part of our journey.
"Basketball has been extremely good to me. It's the gift that keeps on giving,'' Staley said. "I try to repay my debt to basketball, but it keeps giving more in big ways. I want to be amongst the ones that have won a national championship somewhere in their career.''
On defense, they limit opponents to 39.5 points per game and force 23.5 turnovers per game.
Five Gamecocks average double figures, including two ferment, A’ja Wilson at
16.5 and Bianca Cuevas’ at 10.5.
Junior Tiffany Mitchell set the benchmark for the week with 17.5 points per game on 75.0 percent shooting including 9-of-10 on 3s. Her 6-of-6 3s against San Diego State is the best in school history.
•No. 4 Tennessee is also one of those teams that seems to reload not reconfigure.
They are 3-0 with the most-recent home wins over nondescript Winthrop (81-48) and Tennesse State (91-46).
Ariel Massengale hit her first five 3s in the romp against Winthrop.
Nia Moore posted a double-double with a career-high 25 points and 11 rebounds against Tennessee State. The Lady Vols are winning by an average of 89.7 to 46.3 through three games, and their combined margin of victory over the season’s first three games (130) is the second-most in program history.
Tennessee continues to have two players averaging a double-double, including Bashaara Graves (14.3 ppg., 10.0 rpg.), who’s had a double-double in all three games thus far, matching her total for the entire past season.
Izzy Harrison has been twice injured already, but averages 12 ppg. and 10 rpg. Harrison and Graves are on the first "watch list" for both the Wooden and the Wade awards.
Against this backdrop, coach Holly Walrick says the idea is to not peak too early.
"I think our team needs to have a little bit more togetherness," the Tennessee coach said. "We have to have a little bit more discipline, a little bit more toughness. I thought (last season) we were tough at times, but not all the time. I thought sometimes when our back got against the wall, we folded a little bit."
•The fun team, No. 7 Texas A&M, is 5-0 and – except for a stutter step against Texas – is likely to not be challenged until league play starts.
Agsint Rice, Owls' coach Greg Williams said there's a single best way to guard Texas A&M guard Courtney Walker.
"Pray," Williams said.
Walker scored 18 in the 11-point win.
The Aggies closed out on a 26-15 run. A&M coach Gary Blair said he was disappointed the Aggies had to move away from their patented man defense for a time in the second half to ensure the victory.
"This team is a work in progress," Blair said, adding that his players appeared a "step slow" at times. "I hate to say we had to shift to a zone to stop them, but that's what we had to do with about 10 minutes to go. We're also not creating turnovers, not even close."
The Aggies shot 48 percent (29 of 60) from the floor compared to 30 percent (21 of 69) for the Owls, but Rice edged A&M in rebounding 42-40, including snaring 20 offensive boards compared to 11 for the Aggies.
"We have to improve that, for when we go against some of the quicker, bigger teams we play," Walker observed.
•Georgia, at Columbus, had Tiaria Griffin score 16 as one of four Lady Bulldogs in double figures.
Freshman Mackenzie Engram, in her home state, recorded her first double-digit scoring output (12), double-figure rebounding (10) for, obviously, her first double-double at Ohio State. Engram scored eight points in the final 6:57. She had approximately 20 family members and friends present, including her mom, an Ohio State grad.
Georgia improved to 4-0 against Georgia Tech, giving coach coach Andy Landers 847 wins in his 36 seasons at Georgia.
When he hits 850, he will be the third women's college coach behind Pat Head Summitt and Geno Auriemma to have 850 victories at the same Division I school.
Four coaches of men's teams have also done likewise.
Shacobia Barbee stepped up with a career-best 24 points in the Georgia Tech win. Engram recorded her second 12-point performance. Point guard Marjoie Butler was 8-of-8 at the line in the final 20 seconds against both Ohio State.
"Defensively, for the most part, we were good all night long," Landers said.
"Our kids did a terrific job defensively. They've got players who are really hard to guard, but we defended them very well, as well as you can hope to guard a group of talented athletic kids.
"In the second half, we rebounded the ball. We ended up outrebounding them by 10, which was huge. Our guards got involved. Cobi, Marjorie (Butler) and Erika (Ford) all got involved on the boards. We kind of held them on the defensive end until we could make some plays offensively."
•No. 9 Kentucky is 4-0 and will celebrate Thanksgiving in the the Paradise Jam Island Tournament in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
Kentucky played three games in six days, including, ending with a road win at last season’s MAC champion, Central Michigan.
Before that was a 91-62, 11 a.m. home win over Morehead State, its 15th straight win over MSU in Memorial Coliseum.
At Central Michigan the Kats survived a valiant comeback from the Chippewas. Despite an early 20-point first-half lead, CMU put on its defensive clamps and pulled as close as three on two occasions, the final time with 40 seconds to go. A 3 clinked away as time expired.
Jennifer O’Neill led UK's scorers with a career-best five 3s in a 19-point effort.
•Even Mississippi State made some headway, taking the women's preseason NIT 88-77 win over Western Kentucky.
It is the first preseason champ in the league since 1999.
Freshman Victoria Vivian is the SEC rookie of the week. They enter the AP Poll at No. 25.
Being home for the finale did not hurt. The 3,773 in attendance is the seventh-largest crowd – men or women – in Humphrey Coliseum history.
Defense did it, said coach Vic Schaefer.
“What a heck of a basketball game,” he said. “Western Kentucky has a competitive fire and spirit. I thought we were out-toughed and out-hustled a lot today. But in the last seven or eight minutes, our kids decided they had had enough.
“When we get in attack mode, we have a chance. There were some great defensive plays. We had enough of being out-played. Give Western Kentucky credit for that. We wore them down. We had a few more bodies and we played hard until the end.”
MSU fell down by as many as seven (at 42-35) and still trailed 42-39 at halftime.
“I am proud of the kids for sticking with it,” Schaefer said. “There were not a lot of timeouts. I tell the players we want to coach your mind, not your heart.
Finally down the stretch, we had that extra effort you have to have in a game like this.
“We are playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores. It is fun to coach this team because you are watching them grow up before your eyes.”
Tournament Most Valuable Player Vivians provided a big spark while collecting her first double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds). Chapel and Morgan William each had 17 points to lead the MSU offensive attack. Dominique Dillingham also had 10 points for MSU.
“This felt good but we feel like we have a lot more to do,” Vivians said. “We are not satisfied. We know it’s a good start but we can only get better.”
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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