Mike Siroky's SEC Notebook: Conference Top Heavy With Ranked Teams Out of the Early Going
There may be more conferences with individual powerhouses, but consider the Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball is the only league with three in the top 10, four in the Top 12 or five in the Top 13 of the Associated Press poll.
Those ranked teams rocketed through Week 2 unscathed, even as the SEC/ACC challenge got under way with an overtime matchup of ranked teams.
The league is 32-8 against the world this season.
*No. 2 South Carolina went to Clemson, then headed to UCLA.
Clemson was not a challenge, the Gamecocks establishing that with a 20-9 opening quarter and a 27-8 third. Those starts to each half resulted in a 67-41 in-state runaway.
Everyone played well, but the conference’s best, Tiiffany Mitchell played best. She had 18 with four steals.
Coach Dawn Staley was discouraged with the lackluster effort and the need to rely on her guards.
''Every time we step on the floor we need to look like national champions and not take two steps back,'' said Staley. “Our post players didn't come to play today. When they shoot 20 percent from the floor in the first half, it's hard to keep going in there.'
The game at unranked UCLA started out contentiously. The Bruins led at the first stop but SC took the lead with an 11-3 run for its largest lead of the game, with points from five players. It was 32-31 at the half. UCLA was hanging around by hitting all eight free throws despite being outrebounded by 16. No one was in double-figures.
Neither team could fool the other. It ended 68-65 with SC winning the fourth quarter by six after allowing eight straight to close the third. A Tina Roy 3 and an A’Ja Wilson jumper put them ahead with eight minutes left. Each side had misses and makes with UCLA leading by one with 4:41 to go.
Two baskets –Mitchell and Coates on an assist by Mitchell -- to one by UCLA had the visitors up by two with 80 seconds left.
The best player took over. Mitchell continued to steady the team and made the final free throws, 6-of-6 at the line overall. A 3 at the buzzer was too little too late. SC was 4–0 hours after Kentucky gained that mark. SC hit six of its final seven shots, UCLA two of seven
Mitchell and Roy each scored 17. The two others in double figures had double-doubles, Coates with a dozen points and rebounds and Wilson with 11 and 10. Only 2,018 came to Pauley Pavilion.
SC’s four-year players are 89-16. The school record four-year mark is 113, reached last year.
SC will play three games in three nights in Hawaii at the Rainbow Wahine Showdown
*No. 4 Tennessee welcomed in Penn State, which had a terrible season last year and fell away from qualifying for the NCAA draw. UT starts with eight home games.
Penn State was ready, keeping it at 19-18 early up y four at half then allowing the Lions to open the second half 5-0.
For some strange reason, Bashaara Graces was the designated sitter this game but she hit her first five shots and first four free throws to keep UT ahead heading into the final quarter.
Even though it was not a superlative effort, UT held on, 74-66. The vanquished were happier than the victors. Graves finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Freshman point Te’a Cooper and returning center Mercedes Russell each scored 14, Russell with 14 rebounds.
Graves credits her team mates with the effort.
"I just came in knowing I wanted to play hard,” she said That's all I did. It came easy when you're out there playing hard and having fun.
" I just got comfortable. I knew I could take them off the dribble, and I did that. Just trying to get rebounds, that's just what I do. Rebounding is first in my game plan coming into the game."
“My teammates we're getting me great passes, and I was getting great looks from them. When you just play, and play hard, you don't notice anything else.”
Then No. 23 Syracuse arrived and 10,007 came to see it.
In a very well-contested game, Tennessee struggled to a 57-55 win. Last season UT lost to several ranked teams early.
Early in the second half, Tennessee had seven more rebounds and was still losing.
Graves, in the starting lineup, as 6-of-6 with seven rebounds as UT ended the third quarter on an 11-0 run. It’s where the game was won.
Graves made a layup with 2:48 left and the Lady Vols were up 57-55. No one scored again.
Syracuse’s last points came at 5:12. Graves finished with 16 and 10 rebounds.
In those closing minutes, the Orange attempted three 3s and missed two free throws. UT missed its only jumper.
Russell had the last defensive rebound, her seventh, with six seconds left. She also scored 13. Graves had a block and Cooper a steal in the closing minutes.
DeShields has yet to bust out a game f any impact. She is coming off the bench and had zero points.
There is evidently more rust than anticipated on the projected All-American.
Tennnessee coach Holly Warlick said, “We played well down the stretch and got the win. I'm really proud of our kids. There are a lot of things we can get better at and learn. We haven't had a chance to practice since we have so many games back-to-back. At the end, basketball players make plays, and I thought we got some big stops. We got some big steals at the end and won the basketball game.”
She said among the works in progress is her freshman point guard.
"I think Te'a does some good things, then I think she does some freshman things. That is what we have to work out,”
*No. 10 Mississippi State had Grambling at home in a TMZ rival matchup – they knew them before they were famous.
State exceeded 100 in the 107-43 win. Most dismal for Grambling was the 29-5 third. It is hard to evaluate what actually happened beyond the stat line.
Victoria Vivians found her groove after halftime: 8-of-8 from the field including five 3s. She finished with 22, all but one in the second half.
Rookie 6-7 center Tearia McCowan introduced herself to the 3,472 home fans with a double-double, 22 points anf 11 rebounds off the bench in 14 minutes.
Defensively, State got 40 points off 29 Grambling turnovers.
“Our kids deserve a lot of credit for how they made Grambling play,” MSU coach Vic Schaefer said.
“I am really proud of how the kids played. We did a great job of getting the ball inside. I’m really pleased with how we shared the basketball. The second group that came on in the first half did a great job of sharing the basketball and flipping the floor.
“We did a great job of using our size today,” Schaefer said. “We had a huge advantage there and we really got on the boards. We had 34 offensive rebounds and that’s a great number. I was really proud of how we attacked. We hit seven 3-point shots in the second half and that opened up the inside even more.”
*No. 11 Texas A&M went to No. 14 Duke and then played at home to a traditional rival, TCU.
Against Duke, the Aggies fashioned a one-point halftime edge as non-starting guard
guard Chelsea Jennings scored six and third guard Jordan Jones hit seven, on 3-of-4 from the field with four rebounds They needed every point, as it turned out.
The two Courtneys barely contributed in the opening half, Williams with five and Walker with four
For Duke Rebecca Greenwell hit 5-of-6 (two 3s) to lead everyone at the break with 14 on her way to 22.
Greenwell is a sophomore in eligibility (freshman redshirt) who hit 202 3s last season. She would have been on the Gold Medal World University Games team but had to withdraw with an illness at tournament time.
Duke eliminated Mississippi State from the NCAAs last season. They go to South Carolina and Kentucky next month.
A&M went relatively cold in the second half, at one point hitting just 35 percent from the field overall, while Duke was 10 percent better.
What that meant down the stretch was Williams made a jumper with 2:43 left which was immediately countered to put the home team ahead by a basket.
Time froe until Walker drew the defense to her then fed Khaalia Hillsman for a layup to tie it at 63 with 34 seconds left. Jones got her fourth defensive rebound but A&M missed it long, so, at least, there was overtime.
A&M made the most of it, 9-3, for the win. Walker made a jumper then Duke kept fouling and Walker, then Williams found success at the line
Walker finished with 22, Jones 14 and Williams a dozen. Walker had her second career double-double, with 11 rebounds.
A&M coach Gary Blair had never won a game at Duke.
“I’ve completed my bucket list, so you might not see me here again,” said Blair. “Everything about this program is just class. They’re going to get better and they’re going to compete to win in the ACC. But they’re going to take some lumps.”
“It was a great basketball game,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It’s like an NCAA tournament game, which is good. There are just very, very good lessons for us. I thought we fought hard.
“The reality is that you have to play that way the entire game, not just when you’re coming back.”
Another final flurry led to the 82-78 A&M dismissal of TCU before 4,013 witnesses.
They were down by four with four minutes to go but Walker scored the last 4 of a 6-point burst. TCU tied it with free throws but the Aggies made their last six shots: Williams, two free throws then a basket by Walker, a layup by Chelsea Jennings. With 90 seconds left, Jennings got a defensive board and Joes made a layup. Walker hit the dagger with six seconds left.
Walker scored 23 with eight rebounds, Williams and Jones 17 each. Jones was 8-of-1from the line.
“It’s not what we didn’t do, it’s what TCU did,” Blair observed.
“Over these years I’ve heard so many coaches get up here and complain. Why not just give TCU a little bit of credit? They stayed in the game because every time we would make a run and get the crowd into it, they would hit another one and another one.
“We felt like we were fighting hard the whole ball game just to get it to even. TCU is sort of the new kid on the block, sort of like we were. Now I think TCU is going to fit in the top four in the league over there. So I think they’re here to stay, but we’re not going anywhere either.”
But he does like his own team so far.
“The resiliency of this team is pretty amazing to me. My five seniors stepped up tonight. All five of them played big time minutes. It’s going to be a sad day when they graduate because we couldn’t really use our depth in this game. We only had nine turnovers, and our first six were in the first six minutes of the game.
“They played Wednesday night just like us, on the road. We were both playing off of fumes, pride, and talent. In the second half I knew our legs were gone so I said quit shooting the jump shots, take it in, drive, and try to get to the foul line.”
Jordan Jones’ leadership impressed him.
“That girl played her butt off. 39 minutes, there’s no way she needs to be playing that many minutes back to back games coming off of ACL [surgery]. We would not have won that game had it not been for Jordan Jones and her senior leadership and what she could do.”
Texas A&M Sophomore Khaalia Hillsman said, “Our sense of urgency was not there in the first half). The Duke game took a lot out of us, and I think the fatigue got to us. I think they came out with a whole bunch of intensity, and we didn’t match it in the first half.
“We can’t be stuck in the past with Duke, because we didn’t come out right in this game. The next five practices will be really important since we do play Ohio State and Cal in Vegas.”
Texas A&M Senior Courtney Williams, said, “Last year (against TCU), we were more focused because we didn’t just finish playing Duke. We weren’t hung up on the game before them. We more focused last year on just coming in and playing TCU. The distance (between) the games last year helped.”
With one more win, Blair will become the 16th women’s Division 1 coach to hit 700. No. 1 California visits Friday.
*No. 13 Kentucky welcomed in Morehead State, one of its traditional in-state opponents, to start a four-game homeset.
It added another win to the start of the season, 112-57. Alexis Jennings scored a career high 28, Janee Thompson 22 and Makayla Epps 21. Rising center Evelyn Akhator ruled the middle with eight rebounds on each end. Jennings had 13 rebounds and Epps 11, wit 12 assists for the league’s first triple double this year. It is the first time in 26 seasons that UK had three in double figures.
The 67 team rounds are a school record The 32 assists are one shy of the school record.
Coach Matt Mitchell is satisfied.
“I thought it was gonna be a tough game,” he said.
“Morehead State really battled in the first half. They were very aggressive and I thought they played harder than we did in the first half so I really challenged the team to come out in the second half and compete with a lot of intensity and I thought it got better in the second half.”
As for his star’s triple-double:
“Love that. I thought that it was important for her tonight to prove to herself how much her conditioning has improved. She went all 40 minutes and she needed to do that and understand that we might be in that position again where she has to play a really big role,” Mitchell said.
“ It was a good night for her and she can play better, she will continue to get better. I thought that there were times in the game where all of us, not just Makayla but all of us, weren’t as mentally sharp as I would like them to be. But they’re a good, hard-working group and they will get better from this.
“It’s a big night for Epps, those are hard to come by, triple-doubles.”
The Kats became the first league team to 4-0 by walloping visiting Colorado, 86-61. It was doubled at the half, 42-21.Thompson led the well-balanced attack (nine scorers) with nine at the break
Akhator had six rebounds, five defensive. The Buffaloes did not hit 42 until the final quarter. UK coasted
This meeting of the fourth place team in the SEC vs the fourth place team in the Pac 12 demonstrates the idea of depth in the SEC. Thompson finished wih 17 points and seven assists. Four others hit double figures.
“I wanted them to reap some benefit for their great preparation for the game, and I thought they did,” Mitchell said.
“ We spent a lot of time on our offense the last three days and I think it was the best that we’ve executed in a very long time.
“We just really tried to work on our poise and our timing. Sometimes when you play at a frantic pace it’s hard to slow down. We tried our best to mix as much defensive work and preparation and I thought the first half we got them out of their style.”