Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: Final Week and No Champ Yet With Plenty of Alterations

By Mike Siroky


 It is the final exams of play in the toughest conference in women’s basketball, the Southeastern.

The stunner of the season, South Carolina losing at Tennessee, scrambled the conference. Texas A&M ascended to a program-best No. 3 in the national poll.. Tennessee lost before and after the upset, so there was actually a step back in the conference standings for the Lady Vols.

The league winner will be decided on the last day of the season South Carolina Sunday at Texas A&M. 

The fourth-place double-bye tie will also be decided in the Covid season with an unequal number of games played. Here’s a once-in-a-lifetime SEC result Vanderbilt lost to South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama, three likely NCAA teams. 

No other conference team got a swipe at the Commodores 

Plenty of the others cannot afford another conference loss, but even those three teams in the 3-5 positions would love an opportunity at another win.

The league closes this week with five nationally ranked teams. 

Congratulations, you made it. 

It appears an ultimate risk will be taken,  playing the conference tournament. 

It does not generate money. 

But anyone who gets Covid will be eliminated due to recovery time from the NCAA tournament. A risk with no reward. That will be the same throughout the NCAA. 

A second way to get eliminated would be to win and then get Covid. 

A national program will be shut down without losing, just like the previous season.

Say you win your way to the Sweet 16, then get Covided before you come back for the games. 

It just  creates a blank spot in the bracket. 

You cannot bring back a team already defeated, the way the AIAW did when it ranked its Final Four teams and, if one had defeated another, each moved on.

Tennessee and Old Dominion played a Regional final once, ODU winning. 

Both advanced because even at the final Four level, the AIAW reseeded the tournament.

There were plenty of non-Covid schedule alterations with maybe not enough time let to reschedule them all, some involving ranked teams and all limiting chances at 20-win seasons for those that are close.

The latest round of changes had to do with the big chill affecting the SEC region of the country. It just made sense to not risk travel.

Delayed: Missouri at No. 5 Texas A&M ,  Auburn at Mississippi State,  Ole Miss at No. 18 Arkansas, No. 17 Kentucky at LSU. 

In light of the dwindling number of open dates, most were immediately rescheduled (one more than once). All home teams were likely winners.

Auburn at State was rescheduled this week. Ole Miss showed up for its loss at Arkansas one day late. 

Ticket sales began for the SEC Tournament at Greenville, S.C. starting March 3. If the tournament were this week, Florida and Auburn would play the out match, the winner getting No. 5 seerd Kentucky.

Also in the first round would be LSU-Mississippi State, Arkansas-Missouri and Mississippi-Alabama. 

Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas A&M earned an extra day off so far and wait in the quarterfinals. 

The No. 1 seed and the No. 4 seed will be decided this week. The seedings determine opponents.

We will post the SEC and NCAA schedules  as  they become available, along with the coaches’ votes for season honors. 

The conference tournament has not been eliminated as of today.

The SEC has a legitimate shot at three All-Americans in Chelsea Dungee (Arkansas), Aliyah Boston (South Carolina) and Rhyne Howard (Kentucky). The league Player of the Year is on that short list.

A&M is a deep team. No Player of the Year but maybe the best coach. 

Gary Blair is on the finalist list for the national Naismith award, joined by conference coaches Kellie Harper of Tennessee and Dawn Staley of South Carolina. One of that trio is likely to be  SEC coach of the year.

After the season, Staley will immediately turn to the Olympics until and unless the Games are canceled.

For the second straight season, there will be no McDonald’s All-American games in Chicago. The corporation will still acknowledge the players that would have played.

Nominations of 48 players are being released to those players, the top recruits in America. The list will be cut in half to make the official team. Among them are Kentucky guard signee Jada Walker of New Hope Academy in Maryland.

Texas A&M is readying itself for the post season, maybe as a No. 1 seed. It is all up to them. They need no help. The best coach in the league has the best current win streak at seven. If they win out, his will be the only team to get 20 wins in the regular season.

Kayla Wells placed the Aggies early against Mississippi, with four of the 7-4 lead to open it. It was a precursor of her game to come after one quarter. A&M could not pull away, now that pressure was on in a tie for first-place in conference.

Texas A&M just  had to shoot shot its way out of a bad spell, missing all five 3-point attempts and 4-of-6 free throws in the opening quarter. The defense remained strong, helping the Aggies build a 26-23 halftime edge.

It was 26-23 with 72 seconds left in the half. 

Destiny Pitts’ 3 at the two-minute mark was the last A&M basket. Ole Miss didn’t score in the final 3:03.

It was another low-scoring Sunday SEC game. A&M threw it away with 30 seconds to go. Then an offensive foul hammering N’dea Jones under the basket and the Rebel center Iyanla Kitchens had her third foul.

Wells had nine, Aaliyah Wilson eight. 

Jones was stifled in every way and that’s why the Rebels eventually led rebounds by 10. Shakira Austin scored nine for Mississippi. 

The Aggies had 10 points off turnovers.

Defense was turned up a notch for the Aggies in a 7-2 run in the first two minutes of the second quarter. But Jones picked up a third foul, charging over Kitchens.

In the third, a  13-3 run late gave the Aggies a 61-47 lead.

Jordan Nixon had nine of A&M’s 19 in the fourth. 

The team captain, a transfer from Notre Dame, commands respect of her teammates. 

It was on full display as they closed out the 66-55 victory with a 22-16 fourth for an eighth straight win.

The Aggies took over the game when they had to.

Wells had 18 points and nine rebounds. Wells only shot 5-of-16 from the floor but made 7-of-8 free throws. Aaliyah Wilson had an all-around game, 10 points, seven rebounds, six assists and six steals.

In the fourth, A&M led by as many as 15.

“I just feel like we really know how to finish the game now,” Wells said. ''We've done it time after time. And it’s almost like something that we have to do. It’s almost mandatory.”

Shakira Austin got her fifth straight double to lead Ole Miss, 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Zaay Green and Jordan Nixon helped turn it into a comfortable win.

Green hit the Aggies' first three baskets of the fourth -- her first 3 in the game. That was a special effort, said Blair.

“She hadn’t forgotten how to play ball,” Blair said. “She just needs more opportunities. But as well as Wilson, Pitts and Wells have been playing, sometimes you've got to earn those opportunities or wait for those opportunities.

“She knew exactly what to do when she came into the ball game.”

Nixon then hit three straight layups and a free throw in a quick nine-point Texas A&M flurry, over a span of  1:49.

Johnson's putback with two seconds left in the third  gave Texas A&M a 44-39 lead after the Rebels had erased most of a 10-point deficit.

The momentum carried over into the fourth.

“There was a stretch where A&M showed their maturity in the fourth quarter and just pulled away from us,”' Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said. “And we didn't answer the call.”

Ole Miss made 5-of-14 shots in the fourth ‘

It was Texas A&M's first road game since a visit to Auburn on Jan. 28.

“It definitely felt different,” Wells said. ''It's been a really long time since we've been on a plane or been on a bus on the way to some place. ''

A&M had its 20th win. Already off to the program's best start through 20 games, the Aggies are in their 16th consecutive season with at least 20 wins.

Cierra Johnson’s late free throw put her at 1,000thcareer points.

Blair said, “Sometimes when you’re struggling at the half and still up by three, you have to look at what we were doing defensively. I trust this bench.

“All of a sudden, our guards were making decisions at the end. 

“I’m just happy to get outta here. I am so proud of my kids. Shooting 55 percent for most of the second half.

“When it comes time to win, when Jordan Nixon gets the ball in her hands she is not afraid of anything.

“Zaay Greene knows exactly what to do when she comes in the ballgame. Those six points were so important.

“They had zero transition points in the ballgame. The turnovers were the biggest difference. We showed the maturity that we’ve been here before.

“We talk about it every day. We are not going to let anything in the world bother us. Our seniors are very at handling it. Our teams are tough.”

They go to quiet whiny Alabama before the super showdown in the home finals on Senior Day for the league title against No. 5 South Carolina. 

Last season, the Tide blustered and puffed when they didn’t win 20 but still thought they deserved an NCAA ticket. They unproved their point this season never ranked at 15-6. Yet, if the SEC pulls in eight teams to the NCAAs, they have a decent chance at 8-6 with the dropout at Mississippi State. 

So much will be happening on the last day of the season.  Wells, Jones,  Wilson and  Pitts will be honored as survivors of a recruiting class that sent one on early to the WNBA without a final fanfare. 

That is four  starters that will be gone next season. They need to win now.

Blair had a magnificent plan to start them as a group for all four seasons until the one left early. Then center Anna Dremaine arrived from Latvia after two seasons at Colorado State.

It will be tearful either way. It has been quite a four-year run for  most of them in Aggieland, without two NCAA games to dance with fans.  They know their NCAA travel plans remain in state with all NCAA games at San Antonio irregardless of the meaningless  proposed SEC tournament.


Kentucky : In the  home stretch of her first season as Kentucky’s coach, Kyra Elzy had a chance to maintain tradition with a top four finish in conference. They are currently in third.

She started the league week on Monday against Florida, a trip they made of a rescheduled game despite mammoth travel conditions due to an icy swath in the mid-south and lower. The promised game against LSU was twice denied. 

Sunday brought the huge challenge at South Carolina.SC prevailed.

The Kats are 15-6,  8-5 in the Southeastern Conference, and could take fourth in the league from Georgia this week.

The Gators are improved at a different level, but show promises of becoming competitive as soon as next season. They have already surpassed expectations of the previous 8-8 season. At home, they had the national telecast all to themselves on the SEC network.

 Senior guard Chasity Patterson has paced Kentucky as its floor leader. 

Junior guard Jazmine Massengill, the transfer from Tennessee is paired with classmate All-American guard Rhyne Howard 19 points per game,  7.1 rebounds and team-best 62 assists. 

Howard also has 34 steals. Patterson leads the nation with 64 steals and is second on the team with 59 assists and 13.1 points per game. Sophomore forward Dre’una Edwards is averaging 10.8 points per game with 7.1 rebounds per game and a team-best 20 blocks.

Florida (10-11, 3-10 SEC) has wins against LSU, Auburn and Ole Miss. 

Florida is 7-4 at home. 

As a team, Florida was scoring 72.6 points per game, hitting 41.2 percent from the field and 29.8 percent from 3. Florida had a plus-2.0 rebounding margin and +1.6 turnover margin. Florida is 7-4 at home.

Lavender Briggs led them at19.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. She also has 46 assists, 23 steals and has hit a team-best 32 3s. But Briggs’ season ended a game early with a bum left ankle. 

Curiously, as coaches usually do, it was a game time public announcement.

Kiara Smith is averaging 16.9 points per game with 6.6 rebounds and a team-high 70 assists. They had won three of five league games after starting 0-5 against the ranked teams.

Florida has wins against LSU, Auburn and Ole Miss. Their task is now made more difficult with their best player done for the season.

Kiara Smith averages 16.9 points per game with 6.6 rebounds per game and a team-high 70 assists.

 Kentucky has won five of the last six games in the series but had lost two of the past four in Gainesville. They split last season, each winning at home.  

Senior guard Patterson has led Kentucky as its floor general. 

Junior guard Jazmine Massengill, the transfer from Tennessee, is the setup player. Junior All-American guard Rhyne Howard scores 19 per game,  7.1 rebounds and team-best 62 assists. 

Howard also has 34 steals. Patterson leads the nation with 64 steals and is second on the team with 59 assists and 13.1 points per game. Sophomore forward Dre’una Edwards is averaging 10.8 points per game with 7.1 rebounds per game and a team-best 20 blocks.

 Kentucky has won six of the last seven games in the series but had lost two of the past four in Gainesville. They split last season, each winning at home.  

UK started the win with back-to-back 3s. 

They added a  fourth as they held Florida off in a 21-19 first, a trend which would continue.

Nina Rickards tied it at six. But the Kats had back to back baskets, the second a 3, by Keke Mckinney. Massengill already have five UK assists as seven players scored.

Faith Dut interrupted a few minutes of silence for Florida, then scored again at 4:43 to tie it at 13. UK was almost two minutes without a score. Rhyne Howard’s only points were one of the opening 3s. 

No one was yet in double figures. Kentucky was hitting 55 percent from the floor, Florida 50.

Early in the second, Danielle Rainey was 3-of-5 from the field, 2-of-2 at the line and the first to double. This is a comeback season after missing last year in knee rehab.

She grabbed a defensive rebound, eventually getting Nina Rickards layup and Florida led by five, seven minutes left in the half. The Gators remained intense. Rookie Brynn Farrell brought in two 3s, the game already delivering 10 3s, five for each side.

Florida was seven rebounds ahead. Massengill had eight points as UK retook the leader on 10 unanswered points. Howard was at 12 points, with six rebounds, drifting back on defense and a runout when UK got a loose ball. Her 3 at the buzzer missed. The Kats led 47-42.

Defense did not improve for either side in the second half, as each made more than they missed. 

Patterson had 10 for UK. Bench scoring was 12-10, Florida. Rickards had eight points and six rebounds in support of Rainey. Eight turnovers were disabling them.

A free throw interrupted the 10-0 UK run, but Howard answered with a step back 3, them a touch off the glass with another UK basket and the run was 17-1, the lead was 11 and Florida was slipping too far back. Howard was at 17. No one could alter her.

Florida was misfiring.

The third ended 70-59. 

Howard was up to 25 with eight rebounds and four 3s.  UK was still hitting 55 percent. 

Rickards had 16 points and 10 rebounds for Florida. Rainey scored but four points since eight minutes were left in the second.

Florida did not wince. They cut it to four at 7:46 to go on a Smith layup, having made up seven points. 

UK scored but Rainey answered with a 3 and they were one point closer.

Patterson hit UK’s eighth 3, then it was Howard time again, two drives and a free throw, with an interim assist to McKinney . They had successfully closed,  ahead by a dozen with 1:48 left.

It ended a competitive 88-80, Howard scored 31 but did not double. McKinney and Patterson scored 13 each. Both teams stayed about 50 percent from the field. Florida actually won rebounds by six.

“We just talked in the huddle; it’s a game of runs.” Elzy said, “We just wanted to drive the ball and get easy points.

“It just naturally happened. Tonight, (Howard) did a great job of coming off the screens, scoring. Keke was just our hustle player of the game. She remained composed. She stepped up with confidence.

“We’re always just a work in progress.  We’re getting better. You have got to get stops and be consistent. It is part of the journey for every coach, you’ve got to adapt on the fly.”

Next up for the Kats was supposed to be LSU at home, twice-delayed by the storms.

So the week’s finale was at angry South Carolina. It used to be always a competitive game with the previous UK coach. It was a fair report card on how well Elzy is succeeding a legend. Just passing so far after a non-competitive loss at South Carolina, a level up on No. 19 UK.

The final two regular season games are winnable, at No. 17 Georgia and the home finisher with Ole Miss.

Senior Night will end the home careers of a trio with the coach that recruited them. Matthew Mitchell will be there to see them off. Keke McKinney resisted the lure to stay home in Knoxville and that coach of the time. Tatyana Wyatt and Chasity Patterson represent the national recruiting scope of Mitchell.

LSU at home, is still delayed because of the weather.

Kentucky can celebrate Senior Day against Mississippi.

The week finale, at South Carolina, was always a competitive game with the previous UK coach. It was a fine report card on how well Elzy is succeeding a legend. The final two regular season games are winnable, at No. 24 Georgia and the home finisher with Ole Miss.

South Carolina may be dominating the league and most of the nation, but the No. 5 team  still has to finish their magnificent run. They had lost the past two ranked teams they played, teams obviously ranked lower.

The challenges of game week were Tennessee and Kentucky. The weeks of fooling with lineups ingame are over. Dawn Staley has plenty of power – including a likely Player of the Year and All-America in center Aliyah Boston. 

But they lost without effort at Tennessee and are no longer alone  in first place, down to No. 5 nationally.

So now it was UK.

It was a bad day to be the visitor in Columbia. 

South Carolina was still smarting from the loss at Tennessee. Kentucky had the unenviable assignment  but remained unruffled.

Featured were two All-Americans, 

Aliya Boston for the home team and Rhyne Howard for the road team. They basically canceled each other out  in the first half.

This confrontation was a much-bigger deal when the previous UK coach ran things. He always seemed to elevate his teams for the big games. UK could not win conference this season while SC was tied for first and had won the first game of the annual series.

Dawn Staley is still in the top two coaches in the league, with Texas A&M’s Gary Blair. The loss allowed her to reclaim the focus of a loaded team.

Each team scored one basket in the first three and a half minutes. A steal led to LeLe Grissett getting fouled. Her free throws pushed the SC lead to 6-3. Boston was denied touches, which is a good plan if you are facing her.


Kyra Elzy in her ninth season with the program but first as coach.

She stayed involved underneath and was fouled, a second on playmaker Dre’una Edwards. only halfway through the opening quarter. Each side opened 1-of-11 from the floor, but SC had an eight rebound advantage.

They exchanged baskets. Chasity Patterson hit a stepback 3. Victaria Jackson answered with an offensive rebound putback. BUT SC had missed more free throws than they made, which had to upset Dawn Staley.

Zia Cooke scored eight in the 14-12 opening quarter.

One difference in the second was SC attacking without Boston getting touches or even one shot. 

UK had nine fouls to one for SC. But SC missed half their free throws and only led by three.

Then they completed an 10-0 run, without Boston scoring and without Howard scoring, on the bench with two fouls, one of four Kats with two. She had to come back in. Edwards picked up her third foul and sat down.

Howard hit her first points, a 3, then got the defensive rebound. Cooke hit double figures. Howard answered with another 3. A frustrated Boston fouled. 

As long as UK was sagging on Boston, the guards would shoot and the lead stayed at 10 with three minutes to go in the half. If they missed, they still led rebounds by 10, eight by Boston.

Kentucky had the last shot with 30 seconds left, trailing by seven. Jazmine Massengil scored a 3 at the buzzer, the fifth by UK . Eight players scored for the Kats, four of them off the bench.

SC led rebounds, 31-19. All the slapping inside gave SC 10-of-18 free throws. UK was awarded two and hit one.

Careful play was mandated in the third quarter, lest the foul problems up UK freed up Boston, coming in with three straight doubles.

SFC methodically upped the lead with a 23-12 third quarter. Howard  did not score, but neither did Boston. Cooke was up to 21, 4-of-6 from the field for the quarter and Destiny Henderson 14. 

This was going to be a blue collar win.

It was a 20-point advantage early in the fourth. The Gamecocks did not fade and neither did the Kats make a move. It was all point-counterpoint. The biggest edge was rebounding, 42-25 SC.

South Carlina edgred to a 76-55 win.

“The third quarter got away from us,” said UK coach Kyra Elzy. “We did not have the toughness we needed. At the end of the day we did not get the job done.

“All you can do is out emphasis on it and the practice will transfer to a game.

“We did a good job on Boston, but we allowed them to have easy opportunities down the stretch.

LeLe Grissett was given a start for SC. “It went by fast,” she said. “I did not imagine how four years to go by so fast when high school seemed to take forever. I saw my high school coach, all my family, my nephew.”

She said Howard was the most important person on the court. “We just locked in. It’s what we do.”

Zia Cooke said losing to Tennessee was,  “A bummer. The biggest thing we have to do is stay the course. We have to bring our own energy and that’s what we did tonight. Coach definitely wanted us to get buckets in transition. We cannot let that get away from us.”

Staley said, “Tonight was a perfect (Cooke game). The energy, the effort. Today, she was attacking all areas. A great game.

“We said ‘Let’s not trip.’ You can’t just coach on Game Day. You gotta coach people and players. Every day. That goes back to Staying The Course. Not settling for anything.

“They are very aware of what’s at stake each and every game.”


 Still to come, they had rabid revenge as Ole Miss offered a weak in game tuneup on the last home game and any chance at a 20-win season.

 It is a celebration of Grissett, the lone senior on Senior Day. They would have had plenty had players not fled the team as better recruits arrived. 

As all NCAA games will be played in the San Antonio area, they will not get the traditional opening games at home, so the next Columbia gathering will be a celebration of at least a shared SEC title. 

Tennessee: A  week in which they went 1-2 just when UT really could not afford losses. They have settled at 13 regular-season wins, which is the Covid standard. Everyone playing on will have 15. 

One conference outlier could be one game over .500.

Sheer depth and talent continued the upset of the season. Seasons from now, as we have done with the Lady Vols , we will look at the record book and marvel at these teams and their leaders.

The game had the field all to itself on what is usually the first night of SEC hoops due to the ice storms throughout the SEC hometowns.

Icy conditions allowed the Lady  Vols to recancel midweek at woeful Mississippi State. They did eventually get back to Knoxville for the best team in conference and a last chance at a major upset. 

The victory   kept  them in third with no more wiggle room.

They remain in the National Top 25, which means Kellie Harper will finish ranked at UT for the  first time.

No. 20 Tennessee is led by the overall game of senior Rennia Davis who used to be an all-SEC shoo-in and may well attain that again in her senior season if the coaches vote with muscle memory. 

She was the steady determining factor in the SC upset.

Coach Harper’s preferred core lineup is Tamari Key and Kasiyahna Kushkituah, Davis, former leading scorer Rae Burrell now at 16 starts together. Only injuries or sickness have interrupted. Jordan 

Walker was new to the lineup, at point.

They did not let icy conditions outside deter them. Former UT Grad assistant Carolyn Peck was among the announcers. Tennessse might have felt like a visitor as well, ice delaying the travel from 

Texas A&M for two days.

The Lady Vols main defensive focus had to be Aliyah Boston, the favorite for conference Player of the Year as the best player on the best team so far. She had three straight doubles coming in and was nit denied a fourth.

Coach Dawn Staley’s plan was to pressure man-to-man. Harper’s plan matched that. Lady Vol Jordan Horston was back on the bench as Jordan Walker gained a start at point. UT has the tallest lineup in the league, seven players at least 6-0.

UT scored the first six on unforced turnovers, all by Burrell. She made it eight straight after an SC run and all were contested.

SC came back with four straight. Victaria Saxton tied it at eight. Horston was the first substitute. She grabbed a rebound and got it to Key for a layup.

Former starter Marta Suarez, nursing a gimpy leg, entered with Horston. After a score, Horston fouled. Each shot was contested as the quarter wound down. Boston was still scoreless. Horston  drove to tie it at a dozen.

Boston nicked an elbow and had to sideline, by rule, to stop the blood. She blocked a Horston shot. UT had the last shot. Key was fouled underneath. She made both free throws, but LeLe Grissett hit a jumper to tie it at 16.

Burrell’s eight led everybody. Boston had six rebounds. It was pure old school basketball, only one 3 among them.

The Lady Vols switched to a 2-3 zone, four guards with  Kushkituah. Boston took a break. Kushkituah scored as UT delivered four straight, but trailed by four.

Each side felt like they could push it. Boston scored her first basket and their lead was four, then seven on a Destini Henderson 3, giving her 10 points.

Back-to-back turnovers gave the Lady Vols possession down by 10. As has happened all season, the Gamecocks were failing underneath.  But their defense was shutting out Davis. A trio of Gamecocks had two fouls, two of them on the forward line.

Laeticia Amihere scored twice, 22 of 35 points in the paint. SC was almost putting UT to sleep and led by 14. Kushkituah missed two straight. The Gamecocks looked more fluid. UT was being outplayed.

There was a minute left. Burrell cut the deficit to a dozen, but UT had only nine points, allowing 21 SC was winning rebounds against a taller team, Boston with 10. The Gamecocks had eight scorers, Tennessee four. The Walker start contributed nothing. The Lady Vols hit a third of their shots.

After the break, Davis woke up. Burrell, too, elevating to 16. The Gamecocks held Burrell to four points in the half.

Boston had doubled at the end of three, 11 points and 13 rebounds. But the lead was one point. She finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds.

So who coached better in the final. Gotta give it to the winning coach. Harper figured out the SC defense.

Davis scored 11 in the 22-13 winning quarter. She had all of her 24 in the second half. She doubled with a dozen rebounds. Two others scored 15. Rebounds were exactly even.

South Carolina was stuck on 17 wins, dropping to a tie with Texas A&M with lone loss apiece in conference. Tennessee rose to 13 wins, third place in the SEC at that moment, after declawing a higher-ranked team. The Gamecocks were knocked out of the top four nationally. They ended a 33-game SEC winning streak.

Staley said of Davis: “She put us back on our heels. She just got momentum after that. She got to the line. She did a little bit of everything. She’s a senior in this league. She’s done that night in and night out. Unfortunately for us, she did that on a night when they needed it, and she willed them to a win.”

 All the fouls interrupted things

“It’s a part of the game;” Staley observed. “There was a lot of stoppage, but at this stage of the game you have to be ready to pivot and play whatever style that is needed to win basketball games. Tennessee just took it to us in the third and fourth quarters; we had nothing or no one to stop it.

“The biggest problem was we couldn’t make a basketball play, whether it was a simple high-post pass or making reads. We got the ball to the high post but couldn’t figure out how to get it to the low post.

“The biggest difference is that they’re disciplined, they’re in shape, they’re more healthy, and they just kept fighting.

 “One loss will have huge ramifications in this league and also on the whole nation scheme as far as the NCAA tournament. For us, I like to play in front of all of that, and you leave all the questions to them.

“Now, we’re going to be the ones asking the questions instead of just forging ahead. But we’ll right the ship. As much as it is a devastating loss, there’s still a lot of the season left. Again, all of our goals are still in front of us.”

 That doesn’t mean they are cocky. It means they were simply outplayed.

“To be honest with you, there were no adjustments ,”  Harper said. “It was very fiery. The accepted the challenge.

“Obviously, we knew board play was critical. We did  a much better job of boxing out.”  UT won rebounds by eight in the second half.

“It starts with our live ball turnovers. We did not give them points. We did not assist them.

“This is the least team prep we had. So what am I talking about,” she said.

“I thought we were low energy to start. Then we got after them.

Harper said, “I’m obviously very proud of our team and very proud of our second-half effort when we got ourselves back in the game. 

“I’m very proud about finishing the game. That basketball team is so good. They’re disciplined. They have a lot of talent and a lot of depth. They do things well on both ends of the court. 

“I’m really proud of our team for stepping up and making plays when we had to make them. We got a huge win. 

“You enjoy this. You let it spark you a little bit, and then you get focused again. One of the things we’ve talked about all season – and a lot of it was dealing with COVID and not knowing what was going to happen – was how resilient we were going to have to be. 

“Whatever was in our path, we were going to have to handle. You go on the road, and you’ve got to handle it. I think it’s really important that we are locked in. We’ve needed to get a little bit of practice in and hopefully, that will help us be prepared to go play a really good basketball team. They’re playing great. Georgia’s playing really well right now. 

“We’ve done it all year. We have fought all year long. We haven’t won every game, but we have fought. We have been in every single ballgame going down the stretch, and sometimes the other team has made more plays. 

“Maybe we lost some focus, but we fought. We’re competitive and we play hard. Those are two things, when I step out onto the court every game, I know I’m going to get those two things. 

“I know it. 

“I don’t know where our execution will be. I don’t know where our defense will be. I usually know where our rebounding will be, but those two things I can count on with this basketball team.”

She said winning the second half, 50-30, identifies the fight the Lady Vols have. in the second half.

“It speaks well to  their competitiveness and not getting down. We talk about that a lot. In basketball you see it all the time. 

“Runs happen. You never feel secure with any lead that you have. Our team got ourselves right back in it. The thing that looked a little different tonight was that we got back in it and then really never faltered. “We kept going. There weren’t a lot of mental mistakes on our part in the second half. We played pretty focused, and I’m really proud of that.

“Rae’s aggressiveness and her ability to knock down some shots in that first half was critical – to keep it in the ballpark for us so that we would be able to regroup at halftime, come back out and give ourselves a chance. 

“I told somebody we decided to rely on, ‘Let’s just go and be the best us that we can be – not try to get too fancy with the game plan and go out and let our players play.’ Obviously, it worked a little bit better in the second half than it did in the first.”

 Davis said, “I know for some of our guards, we usually get some post ups. We didn’t really get as many of those today, but I thought we worked around it. 

“We still had advantages over them, and I thought we were able to exploit those. I thought in the second half we were able to get to the free-throw line, and that gave us some momentum and easy buckets.

“She said we were playing soft, and I took it personal. My first half—I just wasn’t doing enough for the team. I took it personal and my teammates did too. We came out there and I thought we grew up in the second half.

“It’s huge for us, winning against a team as good as South Carolina. I told the team before the game that this was our turning point in the season. We could’ve lost three in a row. Every year since I’ve been here, we’ve lost to South Carolina, and today we stepped up and did what we needed to do. 

“We didn’t get everything 100 percent right, but we just kept fighting. I think that will take us further than anything this season.”
Burrell said, “Fighting for 40 minutes. Fighting for 40 minutes was the difference in this game. Not just letting them do what they wanted, but fighting back and drawing the line and saying this is what we’re going to do’

 “This is a good momentum starter into these next few games and the tournament coming up. This could be a turning point for us and seeing what we can really be and what our potential really is.”

There is no rest in the SEC. Another ranked road trap, to Georgia, awaited. And another loss. A step back in conference standings

Tennessee should win out, at Missouri and home for Auburn. A 15-win season would be the lowest ever UT qualifier for the national tournament. 


UT was led in scoring in all games by Burrell (13.2) and Davis (15.6 ). Whichever team won would earn third place in conference and the double bye in the league tournament.

Even with the loss, UT will secure fourth place and the final double bye in the league tournament if they win out.

This week, the Lady Vols  get to ruin Missouri’s senior day before celebrating their own against Auburn – two wins in which they are favored—and then await the call about post-season, far shy of 20 wins.

Davis and Kushkituah represent what once was the best recruiting class in America for a former coach. Three others were run off, all to be starters elsewhere. Kushkituah came back after two seasons of injuries but recovered and now has added to the rebuild under Harper.

Arkansas: After extra bumps in the SEC road, a true Top 20 team was always going to make the NCAA tournament. But it was nice to get to 17 wins and past .500 in the tough conference. They have the potential for 19 wins. They lost five SEC road games. The dropout of Mississippi State also altered the SEC scene.

No. 16 Arkansas has the best scoring offense in the league (84) but the worst scoring defense (75) of the active teams. As A&M’s Gary Blair said, there is not much room for blowouts anymore.

First meant beating Mississippi and LSU.

All-American Chelsea Dungee averages 22 points per game. She has made 43 3s, hitting 39 percent. She is among national leaders at 80 percent from the line.  She averages four rebounds per game. She has 30 steals. Amber Ramirez had made 69 3s, playing off the pressure defenders put on Dungee. She averages 13.2 per game. Destiny Slocum averages 15. 8 per game. She has 87 assists. She has 40 3s hitting 38 percent. She was MIA, too sick (not Covid) to even attend.

This was only the second game of February, after all the kerflufle.

Interestingly, Ole Miss averages 73, two less than Arkansas allows. But the Razorbacks average 83, 22 more than the Rebels allow. Mississippi’s Tiya Cummings is the daughter of former Arkansas assistant Tari Cummings. After one season at a junior college, it was her first appearance back home.

It was contested in relative anonymity. As a rescheduled game, there were prior commitments to ranked gymnastics on the SEC network and no room on the ESPN family.

Dungee scored the first two baskets for the Razorbacks.  Jailyn Mason hit two 3s. Superlative Rebel freshman Madison Scott hit twice, but Dungee answered with a 3, 10-7 Arkansas. With 23 games played, Scott extended to more games than ever in her life, t she truly is no longer a freshman, maybe the best in the league. The Razorbacks were an amazing 4-of-4 from the floor.

Dungee mad a silly foul, swinging elbows, in a near-flagrant foul. Ole Miss was nonetheless hanging in, 5-of-8 from the floor. Each coach was cautioned to calm it down.

From an 11-all tie, Arkansas scored 11 straight, including a Makalyla Daniels 3. Ole Miss had seven turnovers in four and a half minutes. Mike Neighbors was clearly winning the coaching challenge. 

The trend was showing another Arkansas home win.

Ole Miss., a 67 percent free-throw team, could not even make inroads at the line. Dungee made a free throw, the 12th straight unanswered Arkansas point. She had the most made free throws in the league, also among the national leaders.

It was 24-15 at the quarter break, Dungee with eight points, Daniels seven. The shooting percentage had “fallen” to 64 percent. Ole Miss tried six reserves but found no consistency. They had 10 turnovers, but Arkansas had seven.

The second half continued the trend. It was 41-34 at intermission, Mississippi winning the quarter, 23-17.  Dungee had 18, Ramirez 10. They had four 3s. But Arkansas had 10 turnovers.

At one point in a draggy third, Dungee had 29, more than any four Rebels combined, with only one 3 but 10-of-11 from the line. She had 33 at the break. Arkansas led 64-31. 

But Ole Miss had not lost the will to win. They carved into the lead at 64-60. Dungee drew contact as the shot clock wound down. Her free throws were only Arkansas points in the quarter with seven minutes left. Scott was on her.

Daniels claimed a rebound. Erynn Barnum got the advantage of a changed call on a collision, count the basket and get a free throw for a nine-point lead with six to go.

Shakira Austin was leading Ole Miss, 16 points and 10 rebounds. Dungee was up to a season-high 37 with five minutes left. Ole Miss was winning the quarter, but never led with two minutes left, down by nine. Dungee ran into a crowd, the team’s 20th foul, her third. Ole Miss declined to foul. Ramirez hit her 19th  point. Arkansas won their fifth in six games, 84-74. Ole Miss allowed 10 steals and contributed 19 turnovers and 

Ramirez played without any break. “My legs feel it,” she said. “We heard at shootaround, Destiny was not going to play so we had to replace her energy. We were told “Get a hand up’ and that disrupted them.

“We had great screens and great passes.”

Neighbors said, “We played very, very hard. We’ve been working on getting the best driving lanes, We broke these past five games as a five-game season.

“The weather bogged us down, I don’t know how the players felt, but it’s not the players, it’s me. I am not telling you I did a great job with it. Everybody was so good. We got 14 off the bench. They didn’t hut a 3 in the second half.

“It was a good win, a good simulation of the NCAAs, where you play a good tough game and come back a day later. We kept moving it.

 “You could tell Chelsea was in that zone. It’s hard to officiate too. She could have had 10 more free throws. We worked to get Chelsea open. Then you have to nit get bored with success, not change.

“I do not ever take it for granted. ”

Arkansas had 16 wins, finally even in conference, in seventh place. If they sweep, they get a respectable 19 wins. Unimaginative Ole Miss is well done again, 9-9,3-9 in conference.

Arkansas went onto LSU two days later, a team also then in seventh.

LSU coach Nikki Fargas said they had pushed through practicing as usual, even if they did not know when or if the game was going to e rescheduled. 

“At this time of the year, there are so many great players in our league,” she said. “Our game goals are the same, our transition offense has to  be operating at an A level.”

She said all of the keys were the same. They had to stay locked in.

“We prepare for the week,” that is how we are practicing. “By Friday, we shifted to Arkansas, showing them films aout Arkansas.

“The key is going to be Dungee.”

The Razorbacks had one day off to prepare for the trip. They have been trying to limit Covid exposure by arriving on game day anyway.

 The Ben-Gals may enter the NCAAs below .500. That is allowed this season if you play in a tough conference. It will be another footnote to the Covid season.

LSU has plateaued as a non-contender for several seasons now. The university seems fine with that, even if the coaching predecessors earned Final Four spots.

History and the strength of playing in the SEC drags them into a brief post-season appearance each year as the seventh or eighth league team.

They are likely once again to do the same, so this was two likely NCAA qualifiers. Elzy had a chance to maintain tradition with a top four finish in conference in her first season.

LSU added to a four-game losing streak, 6-7 in the SEC, 8-11 overall, of course unranked.

They average 60 points per game, well below the 75 allowed by the Razorbacks. Arkansas scores 84, 23 more than LSU has allowed. The Ben-Gals may well be dragged into the NCAA eliminations as the gift recipients for playing in the league. 

The conference gets eight in annually with the last two gifted because being seventh or eighth in the SEC is still better than one or two in minor conferences, based on strength of schedule alone.

Arkansas hit its first five shots  four of them 3s, two by Dungee.

Destiny Slocum was back in the lineup after a one-game injury miss.   She was in full flight, scooping for a score with 27 seconds left in the quarter. Her seven points led all scorers.

Arkansas went scoreless for 3:02, LSU for 3:01. Arkansas led by 10, 22-12, at the first break. Arkansas shot 62 percent. LSU shot 33 percent

The frenetic pace continued to benefit Arkansas. It took until was left in the half that LSU scored a second-quarter basket. 

A couple of misses let LSU have hope. Slocum hit a 3, the team’s fifth. She was 5-of-5 from the floor, 2-of-2 3s. She added another a little later, 6-of-6, 3-of-3  3s.

Arkansas led 43-29 at half after the home team was awarded three free throws after time had expired.

Neighbors was not happy.

 Dungee hit both of her 3s and was  3-of-3 from the line.  Erynn Barnum scored eight, 4-of-6 from the field. Arkansas hit 60 percent from the field 100 percent from the line. Jailynn Cherry led LSU with a dozen points, but she was eventually slowed by four fouls

Arkansas had led by as many as 22.

A buzzer 3 by Sarah Shematsi , made it 60-46 at the end of three. 

Dungee had scored16, Slocum 23.  

Taylah Thomas hit a jumper for Arkansas and that was it fir several possession changes. Shematsi hit another 3to cut it to 13. The 22-point buffer had been needed.

Towards the end, Arkansas stayed calm and hit free throiws to maintain the gap. Each side had one basket in the final two minutes.

Slocum finished with 29, 2-of-2 3s and 11-of-15  from the field- Dungee had five 3s, 8-of 11 from the line, 20 points. 

“We had a lot of chances to lose, like earlier in the season,” Neighbors said. “ We have learned and grown. We are finding ways to win that we didn’t win the past.

“Destiny has earned the trust of all her teammates, that’s what works.

“They tell me it’s the first win at LSU in five seasons. I say none of us were here five seasons ago. It’s a hard place to play.”

The Razorbacks close the season with the most games played countrywide. They have won four of the most-recent five. Like so many others, Covid considerations will forfeit what would have been home games in the NCAA start.

So this will be it, short of 20 regular-seasons wins, 17-7 now, 7-6 o\in the SEC.

But the chance to hurrah for All-American Dungee, America’s only Native American superstar, is a big deal.  She played one season at Oklahoma then made an indelible mark in Fayettevile as an unruffled sniper.

So is the roster of seven seniors, even if all of them didn’t put in four seasons building this national program. Slocum runs the show after coming in from Oregon State. Ramirez is a fine scorer, coming in from TCU. Grace Spangler, Jailyn Mason, Macy Weaver and Taylah Thomas are four-year commitments.

You know Neighbors will get emotional at this graduation ceremony. They have delivered for him and his university two of the biggest national upsets in program history this year alone, defending NCAA champs Baylor and mighty UConn.


Georgia: The No.17  Bulldogs willed their way into NCAA consideration, playing just well enough to get into the national rankings before the closing bell. They missed the previous two national tournaments, so these seniors will accomplish that.

They were never going to win conference. An 8-0 season start was their announcement. The dropout of Mississippi State also helpeds their chances, especially if the SEC drags eight into the NCAAs. 

They could claim fourth against Kentucky this week.

They accepted the cancellation of Vanderbilt, then welcomed Tennessee, one of their original SEC rivalries, mainly because of legend coaches Pat Head and Andy Landers when the SEC was just establishing itself. 

It was their only game of the week and it was an impactful one.

The Bulldogs are the top defensive team in the league as the only one to rank in the top five of the conference in every defensive category. Georgia is first in scoring defense (59.3), second in blocks (6.2), third in field-goal percentage defense (.369) and 3 percentage defense (.270) and fifth in steals (9.1 per game). Georgia has won four straight.

The Bulldogs led off the day with a noon road start.

The game’s pace was fast from the start. Lady Vol Jordan Horston was back on the bench and junior Jordan Walker started. But the exuberance caused more misses than hits. Rennia Davis scored the opening points for UT. Que Morrison did the same for Georgia.

But that was it more than four minutes in. Tennessee was shooting 16 percent from the field, Georgia 11 percent. The dismal quarter ended 14-10, Georgia. Davis had scored eight and Morrison 5. 

Tennessee already had eight turnovers and was hitting 17 percent from the field, so they were undoing themselves.

The second quarter was just as uninteresting. Both coaches were wildly trying motivation. A Connally 3 put the ’Dawgs seven up, but it was a 9-6 quarter with three minutes left. Davis had hut 10 points but no one else. The chief no one else was Rae Burell, the team’s leading scorer, going 0-for-7.

Jen Staiti scored and the difference was nine.  Then Javyn Nicholson hit a layup. Tennessee did not score a basket in the final 7:52. They were hitting 13 percent from the field, four total baskets in the half.

Staiti had eight rebounds and six points for Georgia.

If coach Kellie Harper called them lazy at the half of the South Carolina game, imagine what she said in this one. Her Lady Vols were facing a 1-2 week and a tenuous fourth place in conference.

Whatever was said wasn’t enough. UT cut it to four in the third quarter, then fell behind by twice that entering the fourth. The difference: zero 3s for UT, five for Georgia, four by Connally.

Davis only scored four in the third. Connally was up to 18, Morrison 11.

A 7-0 Lady Vol start of the quarter made it a game again. Walker scored her second basket on a layup and Davis hit a 3.

Georgia zoomed back ahead by six. In this game, that was insurmountable. Tennessee was going to win its only quarter but never led in the game after the 2-0 start. They still lost by a basket, 57-55. 

Georgia scored one basket in the final 3:40. Their final play, a block of a Davis shot with two seconds left by Jordan Isaacs, was acknowledged by the players as the hero of the game. 

Gabby Connally scored 24, Morrison 11.

Davis finished with 22 points. Kasiyahna Kushkituah had 13 rebounds. Burrell scored 10.

UT is 13-6, 7-4 in conference. Georgia flipped into third ahead of them, 17-3, 9-4 in conference.

Hitting 33 percent from the field was good enough, as Tennessee hit 29 percent.

Georgia had not swept Tennessee in 36 years, before any of the current Bulldogs were born. So much for reclaiming UT traditions.

UT advanced to the National Championship game and Georgia made it only to the Elite Eight in 1984. “It just speaks to the team and the people around us, watching that film,” said Morrison.

“We brought that energy.”

Connally said Georgia is hard to guard, “Everyone brings something different to the table. We want to run, we’re in shape, we’re special.

Georgia coach Joni Taylor said, “You saw two teams that knew it was going to be a battle, playing for a lot, everybody in our league is. That is what showed up today. We knew they were going to make a run because they are really talented, and everybody was diving on the floors for those balls – it was emotional. That’s just Georgia-Tennessee, but even more so I would say today because of 

where we are in the standings, and we are down to the wire. 

“They’re playing well, we are playing well. We want to play well going into the tournament, and that is what showed itself for 40 minutes. It was a fun game to be a part of.” 

At the end, “We get the jump ball, call a timeout, advance the ball – the same thing happened at our place in terms of advancing the ball – and we knew that if they got the jump ball, it was going to go back to them. Again, Jenna  got it, Mikayla (Coombs) was there, and I always tell them, she’s going to be tied up going back to Tennessee’s basket. 

“So, in that situation, we’ll either call a timeout or take the jump ball because we believe in our defense.” 

About the game-saving block: “Again, Jordan doesn’t always light up the stat sheet, and she’s not the one that everybody wants to ask about, but I say this all the time – she is our glue defensively, especially for our forwards in terms of just her blue collar, her effort that she gives. 

“If she is not on the floor in that moment, that doesn’t happen. Rennia gets a clean look at a 3. Offensively, she could run the one, two, three, four, five in terms of knowing what everybody does, defensively. 

“Even if it’s not her assignment, she knows how she is supposed to guard every screen, staggers, who they are supposed to go over/under on. She has a high basketball IQ. 

“Rennia found herself open, knowing that a 3 or and-one beats us, and she gets her hands on the ball for a great play.” 

About the historic sweep:  “We were talking about that a little during shootaround, and it just speaks to Tennessee and their dominance, and how hard it is to beat them twice in one season.

 So, when they have an opportunity to do that, it’s something that we did not tell our ladies before the game. We are very careful with what we give them and how much we give them, because they don’t need to be trying to process that during a game. 

“It speaks to the fact they want to leave it in good hands. They want to go out the right way, so I am proud for them, I’m happy for our former players, such as Saudia Roundtree, who I think was here today. She was a part of that ’96 team, the last team to beat them in Knoxville. Just to be able to sweep them in one season is special. We are going to enjoy it for today, and then get ready to work on a really good Kentucky team to push, and we do that for 40 minutes.” 

Harper said,  "Georgia’s game plan today was really solid. It took us out of sync completely offensively. Hats off to them, they scored enough points to win. 

“In terms of our team, just disappointed in the mistakes. I thought we had a lack of focus. To be honest with you, I think this kind of started on Friday. I think Friday and Saturday weren’t our best practices. 

“That is something I have complimented this team on consistently this year. We have come to practice, to get better every day, and I have really been proud of them. So, this is one of those times I don’t know how well we handled Thursday, but we have a couple of games left and we have an opportunity to learn from this and bounce back from our last two games.” 

Once again, she has to deal with 20 turnovers "When you’re struggling, your shooting percentage is struggling, you have got to find more shots, not less shots. 

“If you turn the ball over, that’s less opportunities to get a shot up. The fortunate thing, the turnovers did not lead to as many offensive points for Georgia, a few yes, less than last game. The biggest problem with that, we needed more shots to be able to put points on the board today.” 

Her star of the game , Davis , agreed’ "Georgia is a very defensive-minded team. I feel like they do affect people. Throughout this league, I feel like they affect so many better teams. I just don’t think we were playing our game either. A combination of both. I think we were forcing a lot of shots, not hitting the open people, not hitting the people who needed to be scoring. 

”We were just all out of rhythm, just everything.

But she said, they will regroup,  "Very quickly. Her (Harper’s) message was just about just being able to be poised and confident enough that after we beat a good team, we still have to show up and perform.

“No one is going to hand us anything. I felt like today, especially at the start of the game, I felt like we were very passive. I don’t know if we thought Georgia was just going to just give us the game, not really sure why, but that’s just what I saw out there.

Georgia has Kentucky in next for Senior Night and finish at Florida.

Senior Connally is working to gain the NCAAs in her hometown of San Antonio. Morrison, Staiti and Maya Caldwell will also finish on Senior Night.



Post a Comment

<< Home