Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Back to the Grind
The Southeastern Conference season did not end with Mississippi State at South Carolina.
But if the No. 5 Gamecocks win out, they are champs once again. They have been in the Top 10 nationally for 63 straight weeks.
The other teams beyond the top four in the conference are scrambling to get noticed and, especially to 20 wins before the NCAA draw.
As January ends, the games next month will gain some them NCAA entry pass and deny others.
It still appears as if as many as eight can make the cut, with the last two gifted because they play in this league.
No. 4 Mississippi State
Where Bulldogs end up after losing the instant classic at South Carolina will not hurt much.
Certainly they are still a Top 10 team.
But their only game was an important conference one, No. 2 vs. then No. 4 Texas A&M. Still, it was at home and they had a week to recharge after SC.
Against a real good team, A&M looked like what it is, a rebuilding team with a fantastic coach.
They have 15 wins, but still must go to Tennessee and have the top two league teams in the final three games. So the Aggies’ wiggle room is minimal.
State moved to 7-1 in conference; had A&M pulled the upset, each would have been 6-2.
Instead, the Bulldogs defended their undefeated home streak, cc-cc. They are No. 4 nationally in RPI.
Coach Vic Schaefer said they used the Collision in Columbia as a teaching moment.
“We come back and look at defense and some of the shortcomings we had. We look at offensive execution. We will look at the good stuff we did offensively. I think we did some really good stuff. We did some really good half-court stuff and didn’t turn the ball over. We will look at the first five minutes of the third quarter where we kind of got punched.
“Typically, we were doing the punching, but we weren’t real focused. We had some lapses with our key kids and they know that. We have to make those adjustments and corrections.
“That is the piece that people don’t understand. Our kids and my staff, we are all so invested in what we do. It’s not a ‘come in for an hour and a half and then see you tomorrow.’ We will watch film for probably an hour. We have already lifted. We will work on a lot of fundamentals today. We are ready, game plan-wise, for what is coming on Sunday. Your investment time is important. This is important to us.”
Going forward, he said, they have to develop a diversified offense.
Victoria Vivians is a feared shooter, but . . .
“I think right now, she has everybody’s attention. She gets everybody’s best defender,” Schaefer said.
“We probably need to take some strain off of her and have some other people carry the load.
She is not shooting the ball extremely well in the league. To be fair to our team and her, I think you have to look at some other ways to do what we do offensively.
“You can’t just continue to go 30-35 percent night-in and night-out. Our inside players are really shooting the ball well. (Dominique Dillingham) shot it well the other night. I thought (Roshunda Johnson) played really well. She is starting to get back into form. I think we have some other options. To be fair to everybody, I think we need to look at those right now.”
"This is not a hobby. This is what we are emotionally invested in as coaches and as players.”
Schaefer told his team beforehand, ‘There’s a lot of talent in this room; we had one setback. Dare we dream it’s the only one?”
As both teams are Maroon and Grey, State wore home grey for the first time in program history. No truth to the rumor that is based on Schaefer’s hair style.
Two defensive-based teams made points a premium. Morgan William, State’s point guard, stumbled to the bench after knee-to-knee contact near the start and sat out at two minutes.
Without her, A&M went on an 8-0 run and took the lead by three. Two free throws later and it was five.
Vivians stayed on the attack and cut it by two.
A&M was hitting half its shots, State at 28 percent.
Schaefer took off his jacket as coaching amped up.
A&M only goes six deep, that group contributing 90 percent of the points and minutes. The visitors had a 20-15 edge at the quarter stop.
State planned to run them ragged. Two fouls on A&M’s magnificent Ariel Howard altered both game plans. She is the SEC’s best rebounder.
That’s when Schaefer looked to capitalize on Howard’s absence by putting in his 6-7 backup,
Teaira McGowan. She and Vivians combined for 16 of the second-quarter start. When Okorie put one back up, it as an 18-8 run and a 33-9 lead. The shooting had crept up to 45 percent.
A&M’s Lumpkin picked up personal foul No. 3. Fouls were only 9-7, but State had the depth and no starters with more than one foul.
McCowan was 4-of-4 from the field and 2-of-2 from the line, outscoring A&M by herself. Vivians also had 10, with two 3s. William had eight.
It was 41-29 at half, the largest lead of the game. State had imposed a single-digit quarter on the Aggies. Every team that did that this Sunday won its game. Each side was hitting 43 percent from the floor. Dillingham already had a career-best six assists.
“We were getting better shots and a little better defensively,” Schaefer observed. “I thought we were headed for 80 points. We gotta guard. If we hook up defensively and get locked in, everything else works.”
“They wear you out,” said A&M’s Gary Blair.
The trends continued in the third.
With both teams at full strength, they basically traded baskets. State stayed on the attack on both ends. The entry passes worked. A&M looked tentative on defense.
The lead edged to 17. Vivians had 18. Then A&M cut it back and the lead ended where it started, the home team a dozen up.
A&M finally had its run, cutting the deficit to seven but never closer. Vivians made a wonderful individual exhibition, eventually driving for a layup.
She has taken 100 more shots than her nearest teammate, but a shooter must shoot and as she goes, so goes the team.
with 3:49 left, Schaefer reminded his team that going inside is the way they control the game.
A Curtyce Knox 3 made it seven again. A&M made three straight fouls and left William at the line. She drained both. Ten points with nine assists.
A&M hit a jumper and immediately fouled. State hit a free throw.
A&M tried a 3-on-1 backcourt trap. Uh oh, somebody’s open. State dribbled away some clock until A&M tagged Ojorie. She hit one. State hit 7-of-8 from the line to close it out.
A&M hit the final jumper, 61-71.
So A&M remains stuck on 15 wins, 5-3 in conference, tied for fourth with Missouri and Aburn. State has won 21 of 22, unbeaten at home, 7-1 in conference. Including South Carolina, no SEC team has scored more than 64 against State.
Vivians played 35 minutes, his three 3s and scored 18. StarkVegas drew 7,780
“Heck of a basketball game between two really good teams,” Schaefer said. “Proud of the press. Proud of our kids trying to wear them down because of their depth. We answered in the fourth quarter when the game was tight. (Johnson) came in and gave us some great energy.
“The second quarter was big. I am proud at how well we played defensively that quarter. Proud of the inside game. Teaira and Chinwe were both really good.”
No. 5 South Carolina.
Win No. 18 came in a string building to at UConn on Valentine’s eve. At Georgia, already erased from NCAA consideration after being in last season.
This is an interesting time for the ’Dawgs. They are in the second post-Andy Landers season, which means his impact is fading and they are slipping into the pack. A .500 overall record gets you nowhere.
SC started slowly, 11-6. Starters contributed one basket. Bianca Cuevas-Moore, the first player off the bench, scored four. Each side hit 30 percent from the field.
And SC had one of those defensive single-digit quarters, which they did again in the 12-9 second.
Alisha Gray, the league Player of the week, scored seven in the quarter.
But their shooting fell to 22 percent, less than half their average.
Georgia won the next quarter and it remained an SEC tussle. Gray was confident, following 17 in the Stare showdown, she had 16 with three minutes left.
A’ja Wilson had 15 with 10 rebounds.
Alaina Coates is suddenly a scoring afterthought, but she had four blocks and 13 rebounds.
Georgia center Caliya Robinson fouled out without a point. She had been averaging 14.
It was a 14-point lead with two minutes left. Coates was actually resting while they were coasting.
They are No.2 nationally in RPI so the road games do not bother them. They had a healthy representation in the crowd. They draw the best nationally on the road, this time 3,540.
It finished 62-44. Wilson had 29 – 22 in the second half -- with 11 rebounds. Gray had 18. The shooting percentage settled in at 35. They had 16 more rebounds. SC hit 17-of-31 from the line, the home team 3-of-8.
Georgia coach Joni Taylor said, “You can’t send them to the line 31 times. Every time we made a run, they answered.”
Gray said she started too slowly, but then, “I just sat back and played defense and let the game come to me. I focused on rebounding and then the shots started to fall.”
She scored seven points in a 71 seconds to close the first half.
“I started lackadaisical and I was playing crazy. Coach just said calm down and play your game and you’ll be alright. It all starts on defense, then I get out and my teammates find me.
“Then I just try to execute and do the right thing.
“We just have to get out there and play South Carolina basketball.”
Monday will be the first game against Tennessee and former North Carolina backcourt mate Diamond DeShields, who dropped 27 on the road at Florida most recently.
Staley said her team has to, “Stay focused. Stay on the task at hand. Possession by possession. Find a way to win.
“We have to play small ball going forward. The benefit for us is the ability to knock down baskets, to drive.”
Auburn broke a two-game losing streak and won at state Alabama Each has 15 wins and not a clear path to 20. They would be among those contesting the final NCAA spots.
Tennessee easily won at Florida—nothing like the Gators to help a team with problems on the road – and now await a beating at South Carolina with 13 wins, 4-3 in conference, all alone in seventh. They are No. 15 nationally in RPI. There is no logical path to 20 wins in the regular season. A loss Monday does not move them down in conference.
Kentucky, No. 3 in conference, won at Ole Miss for its only game of the ratings week. They have 15 wins and are third in the league at 6-2. They are No. 14 nationally in RPI – hence the inclusion in the NCAA’s projected Top 16 for first-round hosts. They also host the Regional, maybe with South Carolina as the top seed.
Evelyn Akhator is averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds in the four-game win streak, heading into Monday at Missouri. They have yet to play Mississippi State or South Carolina. SC visits this week and closes their home season with the Kats. State comes to Lexington this month as well. At least those games will continue to help the RPI
LSU used a 1-1 week to get a 15th, 4-4 in conference, which is eighth today.