Mike Siroky's SEC Notebook: Carolina Grinds Thru and Looks to UConn Showdown
In women’s basketball of the Southeastern Conference yet another week passed with no change at the top.
South Carolina started the week by dismissing Florida, one of those third-tier conference teams.
SC remains unbeaten in conference after seven games.
This week, they start with Texas A&M in the league conference showdown of the week.
Kentucky at Tennessee and Mississippi State at Auburn is also interesting this week and part of cable TV’s Big Monday.
The Gamecocks’ next big challenge is a national 1-2 showdown, against UConn on Feb. 9
Tennessee is also unbeaten in conference; A&M, State and Kentucky each have two losses.
Then there are several teams with three league losses each, among them nationally-ranked Georgia.
State is first to 20 wins, so is likely already into the NCAAs. Now they are playing to get back to No. 16 and the guaranteed opening games of the Big Show.
•South Carolina whomped the Gators, 70-42, and took a week to prepare for A&M.
A 40-17 opening half made the Florida an obvious walkover, but they took the second half by a dozen anyway.
In limited playing time, guard Tiffany Mitchell was 8-of-10 from the field for 18 to lead everybody. The rest of the starters did not have time to even reach double figures.
SC was thus first to 6-0 in conference.
Gator coach Amanda Butler said, “Obviously we are super disappointed by the way we played. South Carolina is a great team. Dawn (Staley) has done a fantastic job, and they deserve their ranking.
“It’s exciting to have the No. 1 team in our league again, but we didn’t bring the effort to match playing the No. 1 team.
"It’s really disappointing. We really battled in spots and certain individuals battled, but across the board, we didn’t bring the fight or preparation that I saw for three days in practice.
"I thought we had some really great days of practice and I was proud of our effort, but it didn’t translate into game success.
“We gave up a lot of points in transition and that was just panicking and not relying on our communication, and our structure and the things we have practiced.
"We gave them a lot of really easy looks in transition. We weren’t communicating, getting back, stopping the ball or really anything in transition.
"Some of the half-court things we knew they were going to pound the ball inside, so we knew we needed good ball pressure and good awareness on help side. It just wasn’t consistent; it was only there in spots.”
• Tennessee, after three road games, welcomed in LSU, which went 2-0 in the league the previous week and is coached by Nikki Caldwell, a UT All-American as a player.
Next was arch-rival Georgia, coached by Andy Landers, the coach with the most games in the league. That’s as tough a homestand as any in conference.
UT's gauntlet continues at Kentucky’s on Thursday, then No.18 Mississippi State visits.
Against LSU, Izzy Harrison's 5-of-6 from the field helped UT gain a 10-point first-half edge.
A 13-2 run five minutes into the in the second half made it a 17-point edge; the UT bench had a 12-4 edge over the LSU reserves.
It was over and ended 75-58.
Harrison finished with 25 points, 9-of-11 from the field, 7of-8 from the line with eight rebounds, five defensive. Andraya Carter was 5-of-6 with 13 points; reserves Alexa Middleton and Ariel Massengale had seven each,
The Lady Vols stayed undefeated in the league and LSU became one of those SEC teams with three losses.
Against Georgia, Tennessee won its 16th straight games at Thompson-Boling Arena, 12 in a row this season.
Tennessee also won a league-best 13 consecutive contests against SEC opponents, beginning vs. Auburn a year ago.
The Dawgs lost senior guard Shacobuia Barbee just minutes into the game.
She was limped off the court and did not return. She will be evaluated back in Athens.
Jordan Reynolds scored a career-high 15 and UT beat Georgia for the seventh straight time, this one 59-51 victory.
"I thought the past two games she has played very average,” said her coach, Holly Warlick. “I spoke pretty sternly with her. I hope she continues to do what she did tonight.
" She was aggressive, solid on the defensive end and I thought she pushed the basketball. She hit big shots. She is having to get people to go where they need to be as a point guard.
"I'm asking her to do a lot of things. You saw her against Kentucky. I have seen her so now nothing else is acceptable. My expectations of her are for her to play like tonight and the Kentucky games. I'm not going to stay off of her.
“But I think that is what point guards do when they take on that responsibility. I don't even think she thinks she has the biggest responsibility. I think she just plays. She loves the game and plays hard.
“When she plays hard with great effort that is the Jordan we know. When she is not into it then we don't like Jordan then. I just think she is a point guard.
"She knows it. We have sat down and talked. She has been a point guard pretty much her whole career. It's in her blood. I think Jordan is a great leader on the court. She knows who to give the ball. She knows when she needs to shoot. She has just done a great job for us this year."
Tennessee is 7-0 in conference, still defending the home court and has 17 wins. Harrison put Tennessee ahead for good at 47-45 by converting a three-point play with 5:51 remaining.
Tennessee won by hitting 20-of-21 from the free-throw line; the visitors were unsurprisingly 3-of -7.
"For us to shoot 95 (percent) it is huge,” said coach Holly Warlick. “We put in the time. This game was a huge bonus for us to be able to knock down the free throws. I can't remember the last time we shot 95 percent. It's huge.”
Neither side was consistent. Georgia had a 14-3 first-half run; Tennessee closed the half on a 14-0 spree. Georgia scored 10 straight in the second half and UT countered with 12 straight.
Harrison finished with nine points and as many rebounds, twice as many boards as anyone else in the game.
She is three points shy of 1,000 for her career; Bashaara Graves and Ariel Massengale are each past 960.
Warlick said she had a feeling about Harrison’s games to come.
"It was a great win for us. It's good to see Izzy get back on track. I told a friend of mine, I said, ‘Izzy's going to have a great game’" Warlick said.
"It's how she carried herself. I think she got her mind right before the game. It's how she was focused. I'm really proud for her.
"It was a solid team effort. It had some lapses but you know what, we played hard and shot the ball well. We got stops when we needed to. It was a good win for us tonight.
"At the beginning of the year I thought our offense was behind because our defense was there and we work so hard on our defense.
"Now we've kind of balanced it out. I think we took shots that each of our players can make.
"We didn't force a lot of shots. We took shots that each of these young ladies can make. We got on track and we moved the ball.
“When you get good looks you're going to shoot 55 percent because you're taking shots that are makeable shots."
Of course, Tennessee is almost done with its series with Notre Dame; next year’s game at South Bend ends it. This year was another meaningless loss, as the Irish closed out with nine of its final 11 from the line in a home win. UT is the only national team to play against three ranked teams in one week this season.
These two cannot meet again until the Final Four, as each will be a top seed in an NCAA Regional and each will be guaranteed a Sweet 16 advancement with two first-round home games.
•Texas A&M started Georgia’s week at Athens, which gave the Bulldogs one of those conference weeks in which both opponents are ranked higher than they are.
It was A&M’s only game in the week, a 54-51 loss, with the next challenge this week at No. 1 South Carolina.
Georgia started by outshooting the Aggies in the first half, 57 percent to 22 percent and finished with a 57-54 win, pulling A&M into those teams with two league losses and out of the Top 10.
Georgia won despite being outshot from the field at home, 51-38 percent.
Reserve freshman forward Mackenzie Engram scored 16, 5-of-7 from the field, 2-of-2 on 3s and 4-of-4 from the line with five defensive rebounds.
"The best thing about Mackenzie's game was that she executed," coach Andy Landers said. "She made shots, made some plays on top of some shots and rebounded the ball well. Mackenzie was terrific for us."
Georgia outscored the Aggies 20-8 in the paint, 23-9 off the bench, and 14-6 off second-chance points.
A key home advantage: The Bulldogs also earned 13 points from the line, shooting 72.2 percent, while the visiting Aggies were 1-of-2 on free throws. Two free throws as time expired were the difference
Regardless of the free throw discrepancy, Landers said, "It was a heavyweight fight. I thought our kids were perfect defensively, they really were.
" We took away exactly what we wanted to take away, and then we did a reasonably good job rebounding the ball on the defensive end.
"But on the offensive end, we were terrific at rebounding the ball. When you add both ends together, we get the advantage rebounding the basketball and that results in possessions. And in a game like this, possessions win."
Georgia has its 18th win with plenty of the season to spare. It was also its 18th straight at home. Three more overall wins and the program will have 900; eight more gets Landers his 950th.
A&M’s Gary Blair was ready for a tough defensive game.
“I give Georgia credit. I told Andy before the ballgame that the first team to 50 would win and that's exactly what he told me. He said, `We hit 50 before you.'
"I thought our kids fought hard to get back into it. We're seeing 90 percent zone. Tonight we saw 100 percent zone, but the player of the game was their backup kid Engram.
" She came in and played well. Somebody's going to the bench if she can play as well as she did like that.
" I thought they shot the ball, but when you hold a team to 25 percent in the second half you've got to find a way. We shot 46 percent, but we didn't box out on rebounds.
"I like the fight of our kids, how they came back. Jordan (Jones) is going to have to knock down those 3s. She made two that got us back into it in the second half.
"The bottom line is we've got to become a better 3-point shooter and we're not getting the job done inside at the five position.
"This a tough conference; four out of five on the road. This was the first one...South Carolina (on) Monday. This is the way it's going to be all year long.
"It's nearly going to be the first team that hits 50 is probably going win."
•Mississippi State was at its biggest conference rival, Ole Miss, another team that had made rumblings of life the previous week.
They escaped Oxford, 64-62, and celebrated being the first national team to 20 wins. Freshman Morgan Williams made the last-second shot for the win. She had 14 off the bench.
William made back-to-back layups with 4:58 left for a six-point lead, but the Bulldogs did not score another field goal until the game-winner.
Breanna Richardson scored 16, Martha Alwal 14, and Victoria Vivians 10, though it took her 2-of-13 from the field to get there, with 5-of-6 from the line.
Alwal was 6-of-7 and William 5-of-7 from the field. Some3,383 attended, for which Ole Miss coach Matt Insell was grateful. He also rewarded the effort by giving his team two days off. They only had one game this week.
William’s game winner was a deep jumper from just inside the 3-point lane with four seconds left.
"What a great atmosphere for a college basketball game," Insell said.
"Mississippi State has a really good team. I said that all week, and I knew it
was going to be a tough game. We have a pretty good team ourselves, and we're getting better each and every day. I hurt for our players."
Rebel senior forward Tia Faleru, limited by foul trouble and then fouling out with 1:54 left, finished with eight points and 11 rebounds in just 22 minutes
"You're playing without your All-SEC player," Insell said. "She plays 22 minutes, and you still have a chance to win it. Tia is a really good player and we really need her on the basketball court for us to be success. It was hurtful for us to not have her for a large part of that game."
Mississippi State opened the second half on a 12-4 run, including an 8-1 run at one point, to take a 42-38 lead and ahead to stay.
Ole Miss remained close, drawing to within four, 55-51, with under eight minutes left when a block-charge foul went against Faleru and Ole Miss, picking up her fourth personal foul and wiping a possible 3-point play.
Faleru later pulled the Rebels to within three, 60-57, with 2:19 left, before picking up her fifth foul with 1:54 left in the game.
"We went a large part of that second half where we didn't have any pop," Insell said. "All of a sudden, it clicks in, and they start having pop there. We had a chance to win and gave ourselves a chance to win. We made the plays to win it. We executed when we had to execute, but we could not get over the hump."
Mississippi State drew a foul and got to the free-throw line again, making both to take a 62-60 lead with 46.6 seconds left, before McCray tied the game and William made the game-winning shot.
"Danielle McCary made a great play there driving through and scoring at the end," Insell said. "We didn't back in transition defense. And then Morgan made an unbelievable shot. I knew she was going to take it as the time ran down.
"She had no choice and she had to let it go. And then she raised up and made it. A’Queen Hayes contested it and guarded it as well as you can guard it. That kid made a tough basketball shot."
•Kentucky was at Missouri in its only game of the week.
This was relatively easy at the Kats took a three-point halftime lead to a 40-29 second half, 83-69 at the end or what should happen when a traditional, usually ranked team takes on a traditionally unranked team.
Guards Mikayla Epps, Bria Goss and Linnae Harper scored 18, 16 and 15. Alexis Jennings scored 10 of the bench.
Bit it is Jenniffer O’Neill who is the leading scorer as a reserve.
She led again, with 19, including 6-of-6 at the line, or five points above her season average. She is in double figures in 16 of 19 games, including seven of the past eight.
Mizzou hit a league-best 13 3s (of 35 tries) to score the most in conference against UK this season.
Sophomore Sierra Michaels scored 16 (against a nine-point average) with seven rebounds and six assists in the four-guard offense.
TOSSED, THEN SUSPENDED: With 1:14 left in the first half of the Auburn at Alabama game, the Tide leading 28-15, Auburn's Hasina Muhammad and the Crimson Tide's Breanna Hayden got tangled up after a free throw.
Video replay showed Hayden throwing a punch that connected with Muhammad's face.
An official got knocked to the floor as she tried to separate the two.
Muhammad threw a punch after chasing Hayden toward the Alabama bench.
Both players were ejected. Meoshonti Knight of Alabama was also ejected for leaving the bench. Muhammad and Hayden each received one-game suspensions from the NCAA, which was not contested by either school.
"I have no idea what completely happened, but BreBre (Hayden) apologized to her team immediately after that and knew that she had made a mistake," Alabama coach Kristy Curry said.
Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy is also unhappy.
"You're always disappointed in situations like that," she said. "You never want to see either player from either side ejected from the game. This is the game that they love, the game that they practice to play, and so you never want that to happen."
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