Mike Siroky's SEC Report: The Separation Season Rolls Along
The second week of Southeastern Conference competition showed Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will not win the conference title this season.
In fact, both Mississippi State and South Carolina can win all their home games.
You must win all of your home games to win conference and no other team will.
It also marked a national milestone with only two teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 20, the first time the conference has only had two in decades. Kentucky was below that and after Sunday’s loss to Texas A&M, the Wildcats are endangered of dropping out and taking with them the sixth longest current streak in the women’s rankings.
The SEC is 9-10 vs. the Atlantic Coast Conference so far and 134-29 against the rest of America.
For the rating week, the conference muckup kept the teams chasing the Big Two in a churn while the separation season for the ranked teams pulling away continued
No. 4 Mississippi State
The Bulldogs celebrated their highest ever ranking by winning their sixth straight against Arkansas and especially at Tennessee, having never beaten the Lady Vols two seasons in a row.
Heck, before last season they had never beaten them once in a row.
State coach Vic Schaefer had said of his freshman daughter, Blair, “She is what we are, tough. She has played with a broken nose and stitches near her eye and she won’t wear a mask.”
At Arkansas, she had the two MSU 3s in the second half. She also drew a couple of charges as they hung on, 59-51.
“You have to commend Arkansas,” Vic Schaefer said. "They came in the second half and played very well and defended us very well. We were really bad offensively tonight. We need to give credit to Arkansas for that. It’s hard to believe we held them to 29 percent shooting and it was a nail-biter.
“If the Schaefer kid is not on the bus, we don't win that game. She made some really good plays when we had to have them, both offensively and defensively. We had not been practicing well. Some of the kids are feeling the number (no losses). We had some players that were tight tonight.”
The Bulldogs had the usual leaders in double figures, Morgan William with 15 points, Chinwe Okori with 14 and Victoria Vivians with 13.
Okorie also had a career-high 15 rebounds for her second double-double of the season. MSU won rebounds, 50-34.
Arkansas did not have a field goal in the closing 4:59.
William had four straight free throws and a steal in the final 30 seconds. Vivians had a defensive rebound and then a layup when it was cut to 51-49 inside of three minutes to also steady the team. Arkansas never led at any point.
Off to Knoxville and a surging Lady Vol team, on a six-game win streak and back to 10 wins.
UT played conference-buster by hanging tough against the best team in the league but losing, 74-64.
What kept the home team close was 30-of-35 at the line. If the league is trying to remanufacture the Lady Vols, credibility will be in question with such methodology. State had nine more field goals.
Diamond DeShields, fully recovered to All-America status, went 13-of-15 from the line for UT.
SEC Player-of-the-Week Mercedes Russell had a double/double, 17 points and 14 rebounds, nine defensive.
The Lady Vols have to win 10 of 12 remaining league games to close the SEC regular season with 20 wins. They still visit SC to close the month and will lose when Notre Dame visits next Monday out of conference.
The Bulldogs allow 52.7 percent from the floor, the best of all ranked teams. The 28.7 scoring average is fourth-best in America and best of all ranked teams. They fought the foul disparity by holding UT to 30.9.
William had 21 and Vivians 20. Blair Schaefer hit three 3s.
State won the final minute, 8-2, all free throws on both sides. They drew a Sunday best 8,553.
At 17 wins, Vic Schaefer now has three winnable games, two at home, before the SC showdown.
He is too classy to comment on the free throw disparity, instead focusing on his own team.
“That was one heck of a basketball game,” he said. “We were hoping for a dogfight because that is our mentality. You have to be tough, physical in this league. We had to come out ready to play. We weren’t quite ready to open but boy, did we answer.
"I could not be prouder of my point guard (William). What a competitor. I’m so proud of (Teaira McCowan) also. She had 14 points, nine rebounds against one of the best players in the country, Mercedes Russell.
“If you don’t see us play often, you saw what is in our kids' chest plate today. It’s toughness, a competitive fire. They are competitors. We practice harder than anyone else in the country. Our kids are made for these kinds of moments.
“I am really proud of my kids answering the bell today. We have so much respect for (Tennessee coach) Holly (Warlick) and her program. Our depth is so huge. Tennessee had won six in a row.
“They just had gone on the road and won at Kentucky. We had seven turnovers – three in the first half and four in the second half – boy that was huge.”
No. 5 South Carolina
The points didn't come from the usual sources.
Guard Kaela Davis, all-ACC when at Georgia Tech, announced she can also do well in her new conference, with 19 first-quarter points, including five 3s to bust the attempted full-court press. SC was off to its 73-47 win at Auburn.
She also led the defense which forced 15 percent shooting from the field for the quarter.
Then another guard, Bianca Cuervas-Moore, came up with a season-high 19.
“It’s not surprising anymore that people are packing the paint in,” Davis said. “I honestly thought after hitting a couple of shots they’d spread it out a little bit more, but they didn’t.”
“I thought a few times, because of their length, we shot it too quick,” Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “We thought they were going to block it. If we had just calmed down and made some shots, it would've been much better.”
It was SC coach Dawn Staley’s 200th program win.
"We tried to force it down (into the post) a little bit, but Auburn was stubborn in their zone defense by collapsing and controlling what we did in the paint," Staley said. "I just thought our post players played through it. They continued to play defense. They continued to rebound the basketball."
At Gainesville, they knocked the Gators to 0-3 in the league, guaranteeing they will not win the SEC in coach Amanda Butler’s ninth season without winning conference.
South Carolina’s seven straight is the second-longest SEC win streak, good until they visit UConn in a little over a month. The Gamecocks put up a nine-point defensive second quarter on their way to a 44-27 halftime edge and 82-61 win.
Four starters hit double figures, led by A’ja Wilson’s 23. She had 13 rebounds and Alaina Cotes 11 as each had a double/double. Alisha Gray had four 3s.
They have three winnable games before Mississippi State arrives for the league game of the year Jan. 23.
“We tried to speed the game up a little bit, to make some offense from our defense,” Staley said. “I just told them to settle down and be mentally prepared.”
Other SEC winners
Alabama went 2-0, with 2,258 attendance at home. With 14 wins, they have a realistic shot at 20.
With the Monday game, Texas A&M had three and went 2-1. In other seasons, a 12th win would have gotten the Aggies ranked. They drew 5,669 at UK.
Georgia 2-0; attendance 2,222 and 2,958 for the home games.
Auburn has 12 wins, is also 2-1 in the league and is averaging 2,000 at home.