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.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Mike Siroky’s SEC Report: Regular Season Ends With National Game and New Champion

By Mike Siroky


The final day of the toughest conference in America – the Southeastern – settled the regular-season championship as well as the rest of the league alignment for 2020-2021.

Defending champ No. 5 South Carolina had only lost once in conference in two seasons before traveling to No. 3 Texas A&M in the national game of the week.

The A&M win meant the third league champ in three seasons. 

It also meant A&M elevated to it highest ranking as a member of the SEC, No. 2 in the nation, with all the pressure and enticement  that brings.

That same day, Kentucky was at Georgia to try and decide the top four alignment. 

Two ranked teams will play in the first round of the SEC tournament. No other conference has that.

The first four teams get the double-bye in this week’s conference tournament.

After the play-in game in Greenville, S.C., on Wednesday of Florida vs. Auburn, the first round has Mississipi State vs. LSU. 

If LSU survives, it gets to take another whack at Texas A&M, a team it has routinely handled in recent seasons.

The first ranked team in the first round is Kentucky vs. the play-in winner.

If UK wins it can contest another ranked team, Georga, in round two, having just won at Athens.

Missouri woofs it up vs. Alabama, for the right to play South Carolina.

Mississippi takes on mecurical Arkansas while Tennessee awaits the winner.

Teams will get the experience of traveling to the tournament and staying as long as they win. Everyone who qualifies for the NCAA tournament in greater San Antonio (which includes Austin, Texas) will also be sent to various motels.

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair declared the first game of its week as the real SEC title game.

Alabama, with three more losses than No. 2 A&M would decide the title because a loss would push A&M into a situation where even a win over South Carolina would leave them percentage points behind. 

A&M could not convince Missouri to reschedule a skipped game, which set up the tie heading into the last game.

The league never did write a protocol over how to handle canceled games, even accepting up to a forfeit. That will be written up this offseason.

The scrambled Covid season meant not everyone played the same number of league games. 

Blair illustrated Tide senior players Jasmine Walker (20.8)  Jordan Lewis (16.13) Ariyah Copeland (14.5) as  the Big 3, even in games in defeat. You have a chance, he said “When you hold Copeland. If all three of them go off, forget their averages, we have big time problems

“It’s the same five kids for Alabama and they try to not rotate too many kids off the bench. They’re safely in. Juniors and seniors make good decisions Walker is definitely a first-teamer. We missed two games we could not play. So if we lose to Alabama, we lose the tiebreaker. If we do not beat Alabama, there is no championship.”

The Aggies obviously fed off the master motivator. The Tide had won three straight. Jordan Nixon and Kayla Wells each scored 16 points. No. 3 Texas A&M won its ninth straight game, beating Alabama 73-67.

Nixon and Wells combined for 10 points during a 19-3 run for the Aggies to close the second quarter which essentially won the game.

With 21 wins, the most in the SEC, A&M  led for most of the first quarter, Alabama used a 10-0 run to take a 26-23 lead in the second quarter. The Aggies  ended the half at 42-29.

After trailing by as many as 21 in the second half, the Tide opened the fourth on a 16-4 run and cut the deficit to five on a Jordan Lewis 3-pointer with 1:25 left. They burned themselves catching up. 

The Aggies held on. 

Texas A&M senior N'dea Jones, the league Playerof the Week,  had a double with 12 points and 13 rebounds. With seven rebounds in her final home game, she can become the all-time program leader. She had three second-half rebounds.

For the 10th time this season, four Aggies scored in double digits. Kayla Wells scored 16.  Anna Dreimane came off the bench and saved valuable starter minutes, swatting away one shot and nabbing a steal.

The Aggies caused 18 turnovers and scored 22 points of those mistakes. A&M won the battle in the paint, 36-26.

They were 9-1 in the road in conference.

Lewis led Alabama, with 21 points, five assists, and four steals. Jasmine Walker had a double  for Alabama with 11 points and 11 rebounds. But the points are nine below her average.

The Aggies played for their first SEC Regular Season title in program history against No. 5 South Carolina. They last won a conference, also under Blair, when they won the Big 12 in the 2006-07 season.

“We knew coming in Alabama was going to fight because that’s who they are,” said Aliyah Wilson. “Our experience had something to do with it. We have been able to do the small things and hang on to the lead.

“Being on the road this was a big game. We’ll get on the film look at what we did wrong. We’ll have an hour plane ride and a short bus ride to celebrate”.

Kayla Wells said, “We are veterans and we’ve been doing it for sure,, We are not done yet.”

Blair said the game fulfilled his scouting report.

“We knew it was game of runs. We had to get stops We had four seniors and one junior in there at the end. and I consider her senior-level.

“It’s a lot of fun sharing the ball. No one has pressure, We know what we can di. We don’t anybody to validate.

“Stats sometimes do not lie. Wilson had to take care of Walker so if her stats weren’t high it was because she had to fear the defense.

“Alabama would have had to win with big time numbers Our bench was big time. Paint points were big for us.

“Give Jordan Nixon credit, when she’s on a roll, she makes the big-time plays. You can see that she can handle it. Nixon hit a 3 as the buzzer sounded un the second. Pitts hit double figures because she never takes a bad shot.

“I was proud of how our team went and how we shared the basketball. This is just who they are. 

“We wanted that chance Sunday afternoon

“That’s going to be a treat. I’d like it to be Rocky and Apollo Creed and I get to be Rocky. I want to play next Sunday too (the SEC title schedule)

“Both teams deserve a (NCAA) N0. 1 seed. You have to win on the road in this league. It’s  gonna be a helluva ball game.

They had done all they could to set up the home finale against South Carolina.

A&M celebrated the five graduates and lone senior. Anna Dreimane, Ciera Johnson, N’dea Jones, Kayla Wells and Aaliyah Wilson have each completed their undergraduate coursework and are pursuing their master’s degrees in Aggieland, while Destiny Pitts is scheduled to graduate from the university this year. A&M honored them with a ceremony prior to tipoff. 

A&M’s season already had high spots. The No. 3 ranking was already a program high, tying, 2009. A&M is the No. 2 team in the NCAA Power-10 ranking and No. 1 spot in the CBS Sports Power Ranking. 

The Aggies had won nine consecutive games, have beaten the most ranked teams in the nation (eight), were undefeated against ranked opponents (8-0),  unblemished at home (12-0) and tied for first place in the NCAA with 21 overall victories. 

Dawn Staley brought top league searching for a 20th win against three losses, one loss in the SEC.

South Carolina  is paced by the backcourt duo of sophomore Zia Cooke and junior Destanni Henderson, who average 16and 12 points per game. Aliyah Boston is the leading rebounder, 11.7. She scores 13 points per contest.

This was the first time in series history where both teams were ranked in the Associated Press top five.

Brea Beal scored four of SC’s first eight. Jones scored four of A&M’s first six, battling Boston inside.

No one took the throttle. A&M led by one inside of three minutes. Each side was hitting 45 percent from the field. Rebounds were about even. No one had hit a 3.

The Aggies won the first quarter, 17-14, a deficit rarity for SC. Boston had one basket and one rebound. Jones was 4-of-5 from the field with four rebounds and a block.

The Aggies pushed the advantage to seven on a Wilson shot over Boston. Destiny Pitts rained in a 3. Sharing the ball in transition Jones scored. Then she grabbed another rebound, 1,003 career and the best ever in the program.

It was 26-17, inside of seven minutes in the half. SC did not appear discouraged.

Cierra Johnson got a second foul, ending her half, battling Boston. Dremaine came in.

Jones was the all-time leading rebounder in program history, but that was merely the asterisk within the game. Boston scored four straight. Johnson had done a better job denying the entrance pass.

Jones crashed to the floor, the Gamecocks with possession trailing by five. Victaria Jackson blocked an Aggie shot, the Boston grabbed a defensive reounder. Destanni Henderson made two free throws and a layup and SC had the lead by one, 

The Aggies did not score for three and a half minutes while SC put together a 10-0 run. The nine-point lead was overcome.

Play was unfettered by the refs.  Wilson took advantage of that with a layup and a free throw for a two-point lead.

SC’s Zia Cooke was in to shoot 3s. She hit her first. Jordan Nixon scored against Boston with  two minutes left.

Each coach was scrutinizing play and offering advice. 

Saxton gathered a second foul from Jones. She sat down. Nixon stole it and fed Kayla Wells for a layup.

Henderson made it 35-34 to end the half. She had 12 points with four assists. 

Dreimane, the 6-5 Aggie reserve from Latvia, had provided valuable minutes on the forward wall.

Wilson had 11 points, Jones 10.

These are the longest-serving SEC coaches.  The break was the time for each to come up with alterations. No doubt, SC wanted a third foul on Jones. A&M could also focus inside, working on 

Boston’s 3-of-4 from the field. SC was winning rebounds, 22-16.

The league game of the year was playing to expectations.

Nixon started the second half. Blair usually says it is a matter of using his moth athletic player. She hit a team game goal by scoring the first basket.

Cierra Johnson scored next. Wilson picked off the next SC pass. Dreimane was back in to help the frontline.

Boston blocked a Jones attempt. Jones gutted up to take a charge, risking a third foul. SC forced a shot clock turnover.

But Jones also took advantage of a pick and roll to make the lead seven.

Senior LeLe Grisset was in for SC. She fouled Wells, an 85 percent free throw shooter. Well hit one.

Jones doubled with 4:29 left in the third, neither team scoring for 1:45.

The Aggie threat of a 10-point lead was surpassed by a Nixon 3. Boston muscled in for a foul, then another.

Nixon fouled Zia Cooke on a drive. She hit one from the line. Dreimane set a screen on a successful drive, then told the officials she was getting mugged.

It was time for both teams to realize the officials would be calling fouls all of a sudden. Jones scored again. 

Dreimane swatted a pass away. It led to Nixon’s second 3 of the quarter and a 15-point lead with 1:21 in the third.

Nixon fed Dreimane for a classic inflight layup, urging her teammate to set a screen then spin and get it.

The third ended 54-42. Boston was stuck on six; Henderson had a dozen. The Aggies were led by Jones’ 14.

A dramatic  12-1 run by SC cut the lead 

Nixon, a 90 percent free throw shooter, was fouled and hit one.

Boston bounced outside, an SC design to have its center rotated away from the basket, hit a 3 to bring it to 60-57.

The former No. 1 team in America was not about to die. Nixon could not score. SC got the ball back. Jones fought for her 14th rebound.

Johnson saved a possession by tipping a rebound, Wilson challenged Boston with 65 seconds left and a five-point lead.

Johnson gained a tip out rebound. Then Boston swiped at Nixon and cut her above the eye. She had to go to the sideline, trailing blood.

Nixon had to change the uniform under protocol, besides getting the blood stopped.

All this with 16.7 seconds left.

A&M had only fouled twice so had fouls to give in the full-court defense.

On the inbounds, SC fouled Wells. She hit both free throws, 64-57, or a three-possession  game. Wells got an extra free throw for the 65-57 final. It was only fitting Dreimane, in the game of her life, was on the court for the finish.

“We all cheer for Anna,” Blair said.

Boston had 11 with 11 rebounds, harassed and game planned into an average game. Cooke and Henderson scored 15 each.  They won rebounds by four. They had eight blocks.

Jones had 16 points and 14 rebounds. Wilson scored 17. Nixon scored 11 with five assists. They held SC to 32 percent from the floor. They had 36 paint points, holding SC to 26, a season first.

They cut down the nets in exhilaration.

Assistant coach Bob Starkey, in charge of the defense, said, “It’s special because we went through South Carolina to get it. We didn’t play a lesser team to get it

“We made it a little bit tougher than we needed to do. But we did it.

“Anna was freaking amazing. Boston will be a first pick in the WNBA. Anna blocked two of her shots, she altered shots. It was Anna’s night tonight.

“They’re championship material.  They will remember this the rest of their lives.”

You could not have a more satisfying  ending to this weird season. With no post-season home play, to make the impact statement at home was delightful.

Dreimane said, “We have to keep our one-game mentality. (The seniors) have had a great impact all year. The younger players have listened so well and being willing.

“What I love about Jordan is that she is so calm. She tells us ‘We got this.’

“I was just always going to do my best. I  knew my time would come.

“I take great pride in defense. So when I go in, that is what I am going to do.

“I am just so so happy. I love this team and what we did here. 

“We just get along so well off the court than we get along on the court. We like each other and that really helps.”

Wilson said, “This shows what we can do. 

“Everybody on the team brings something, from the 1-15, everybody has something we can so. The newcomers are showing it every day in practice.

“It would very easy to concentrate and what we have not done. Now we are SEC champs and that speaks for itself.”

Jones said, “Our game goal was to take away the paint, to play inside out. Coach Starkey pointed it out to us at halftime.

“My mind has not wrapped around it (the rebound record). I am really happy.

“We can always improve. As we go farther, people will pick on our mistakes. 

“We knew we can win it we stuck to protocols. Our seniors came together. We all had one goal tonight and that was to win.”

Blair said, “Hey sports fans, women’s basketball needed a game like this. We had to prove it.

“Now we throw this out and start again. One thing we were going to was attack Boston, to get the ball even if she blocked it.

“We were not living and dying by the screen. We got eight easy garbage points to get to halftime. We needed every one of those.

“My point guard is ranked No. 1 in doing what needs to be done. We really wanted this. Tournament championships are great. But the body of work it takes to win the season is important.

“We check the egos at the door. Because of neutral court sites, there is going to be more upsets than ever before.

“We got here because we had to realize nobody gave us as much credit as a team. All we are is a basketball team.”

Staley said, “When you get down by a lot of points, you have to get more deliberate. I love our effort. Moral victories, moral comebacks is not us. This was within our reach and we did not get it done

“We missed layups. We were getting good shots and not making them.”

SC ended up attempting 22 3s, hitting five.

“We were not going to two them to catch up,” observed Staley.

“If they are hurting today, we have another chance to win next week.”

South Carolina : Ole Miss offered a weak in game tuneup on the last home game and kept alive the chance at a 20-win season.

The now No. 7 Gamecocks did their part. They had the luxury, with a 1 p.m. starter of waiting for all the  other teams – especially Texas A&M –  to finish their first day of Game Week.

Zia Cooke hit the opening basket and Shakira Austin answered on the other end. But it was all Cooke, with eight points in four minutes.

From 10-10, SC scored seven unanswered. The quarter ended with SC in control, 22-16.

Cooke had a dozen, 5-of-9 from the field, so Aliyah Boston and Victaria Jackson had not been needed. Each side was hitting at least 50 percent from the floor. Cooke has been the scoring leader in conference games, 15.5

The game was still waiting for someone to take over at the start of the second, neither team gaining an edge. Boston finally scored a basket as it was 27-18 at 5:37, the assist from Cooke. Boston’s SEC game average is 13.9, with 12 rebounds.

SC edged the half advantage with an 11-4 quarter domination and a 33-20 score. Ole Miss was going to be below .500 again, 3-10 in conference. 

Austin had 10, but shooting fell dramatically, to 28 percent from the floor.

The Gamecocks were hitting 40 percent from the field, 8-of-10 at the line. Cooke toned it down with ine second-quarter bucket. Dawn Staley worled in her usual top reserves for seven bench points, including four from LeLe Grissett in her final home game.

You knew already SC would have its 19th win, 14-1 in conference.

Nothing changed in the third quarter. It was obvious SC could create a double for Boston if it wanted to, as she had five points and eight rebounds. Staely doesn’t play that kind of game, but t sounds nice anyway because the others in contention for League Player or the season usually do get specific statistical plans designed their way.

She did get to 10 rebounds, but only scored  two free throws.

The quarter ended 49-31, though SEC announcers would probably find a way to praise the Ole Miss coach anyway. Cooke once again scored but one basket in the quarter as the after lunch scrimmage, starters vs others, moved along. Seriously, SC could have stopped scoring altogether in the fourth and Ole Miss still would not have scored as many as the Gamecocks had in three quarters.

It ended at 68-43.

“Definitely got manhandled today,” said Mississippi coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin 

 “First off, they are a very good team. I felt like we did come out fighting in the beginning. You are definitely going to come out and punch or be punched. We took our fair share of blows.

“Really disappointed at our showing.”

For some reason, she took a shot at Texas A&M, calling them allegedly a No. 1 seed. when comparing the top conference teams.

“Coach brought it up (a championship game) in the locker room,” Cooke said. “I am definitely going to go out and play it like any other game.”

“We’ve had to play through Aliyah as of late. She is more calm,” said Staley. “We have to pull her out a little and we have to figure it out.”

“We can think we can win getting Aliyah four shots, but that’s fool’s gold. We have got to figure out how to get more of empty possessions.

“We’re able to just get to the rim and make normal layups.

“We built this program to have homecourt advantages and this year we just did not have it (with Covid). It’s hard, the energy was not there.”

On being known as a physical team: “It’s easy, you’re even going to play hard or sit down. We have upped the ante of playing gritty.”

She woul cast her team as the underdogs, against A&M, based on the ratings. “We don’t have to play perfect basketball. Different team different concentrations.”

They only lost one home game overall and hit the magic marker of winning all the conference home games.

The game was 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 whatever happens after the regular season. 

Tennessee: They really wanted to win out, improve to 15 wins, which is the NCAA standard for most teams for inclusion in the elimination games.

Losses they should not have suffered are in the past. The No. 14 Lady Vols finish ranked after not being so last season, an obvious two-year high in the Kellie Harper regime. These are still mostly 

Players recruited by someone else. Next season, the majority flips to her scheme with the majority of her players.

The Lady Vols have four victories over teams ranked higher than their own selves when they won: No. 13 Arkansas, No. 15 Indiana, No. 12 Kentucky, No. 2 South Carolina, marking the most in a season since 2017-18 when it had seven wins against ranked teams.

The guy that anointed Harper is gone. Whatever this is, it’s all her.

The first of the final two regular-season games was Mizzou and their seniors: Shannin Dufficy, Shug Green and Nadia Gibson. They have two starts between the three of them.

The real starters are Haley Troup (7.3 points per game with 36 assists), Haley Frank (13.0, with 28 3s), Alija Blackwell (13.9, 12.7 rebounds) and Ladazhia Williams (15.2).

Senior Rennia Davis was the league Player of the Week,

Rae Burrell was the leading scorer when the conference started, but had fallen to 17 in conference. Davis had grown to 19.

Jordan Walker is a new starter for injured international rookie Marta Suarez . The rehab of a leg injury has limited her minutes. She had started the first 14

These is a  team they were meant to defeat.

“You gotta  do what you gotta do,” Harper said. “The only thing we can control is how we prepare for the games and then how we come out in the games we have left.”

Tennessee  started 5-0. Burrell scored seven of the 9-2 start,  3-of- 4 from the field with a 3. UT shot 66 percent from the field and led rebounds, 9-2 . Mizzou hit 28 percent from the field.

Davis ran into early foul trouble and did not score in the half. But she scored 26 in the second half, including 20 in the fourth quarter, leading No. the 78-73.

 Burrell went down with a tweaked ankle in the third. She ended with 23 points and eight rebounds. Junior Jordan Walker was UT's leading rebounder, 10, allowing the Lady Vols a 46-25 rebound edge.

 Missouri  got 16 each from Haley Troup and Aijha Blackwell, two of four in double figures.

with 16 points each. 

Troup started early, five straight points (one 3) and then back-to-back 3s by Lauren Hansen and Troup putting the Tigers up by four with 3:36 to go in the first. 

Tamari Key ended the 11-0 Missouri run with a layup. Jordan Horston and Key each scored as the quarter closed with UT trailing, 18-17.

In the second,  Horston set off a 14-2 run that put Tennessee up 31-26 at 5:48  left. Burrell hit a 3 , her 18th er 18th points of the half and the Lady Vols led by 34-30 with 3:21 left in the half. All  Blackwell 3 and a Shug Dickson 3 at the buzzer put the Tigers up 36-34 at the break.

 Harper and Davis said the defense on the 3 was the second-half strategy. 

The Tigers built their lead to six at  5:26 of the third. Jordan Horston ignited a 7-2 UT before Missouri closed out the period with four-straight inside of 80 second and led by five heading into the finish.

Davis started her triumphant quarter with two 3s, while UT started toi eliminate Tiger hopes. The 8-0 Lady Vol spree put UT up by three.

Two free throws grew Davis’ fourth-quarter total to 14 and stretched UT’s lead to 71-66 with 4:36 to play. Blackwell rallied by setting off a 5-0 run that tied it with three minutes left.

Davis scored seven points in the closing minutes of a 9-2 run. Missouri had nothing left.

Davis said,  “I just wanted to whatever the team needs me to do. Credit to my teammates, they just kept encouraging  me.  I fed off the confidence they gave me.

“Defense that’s the way we won that game.” Harper said, as in all SEC games, there are no truly soft opponents.

“Coming into this game staff knew about it, the team knew this was going to be a tough game. You just don’t look at a stat sheet and figure you’ve won.

“It took us a long time to kinda figure it out. We hung in there.

“The biggest thing about her (Burrell) is consistence. She can carry a team. She can score in a variety of ways. She had to be playing through the pain.

“A lot of teams have to choose who they’re going to put their best defender on. It didn’t have to be hindsight to know how big this was. The wanted to finish off strong. ”

Their season result in their own hands, Tennessee needed the Senior Day win to hold on for third in confidence and the double bye in the SEC tournament, the first since the 2015 tournament.

Tennessee  started 5-0. Burrell scored seven of the 9-2 start,  3-of- 4 from the field with a 3. UT shot 66 percent from the field and led rebounds, 9-2 . Mizzou hit 28 percent from the field.

Davis ran into early foul trouble and did not score in the half. But she scored 26 in the second half, including 20 in the fourth-quarter, leading No. the 78-73.

 Burrell went down with a tweaked ankle in the third. She ended with 23 points and eight rebounds. Junior Jordan Walker was UT's lrading rebounder, 10, allowing the Lady Vols a 46-25 rebound edge.

 Missouri  16 each from Haley Troup and Aijha Blackwell, two of four in double figures with 16 points each. 

Troup started early, five straight points (one 3) and then back-to-back 3s by Lauren Hansen and Troup putting the Tigers up by four with 3:36 to go in the first. 

Tamari Key ended the 11-0 Missouri run with a layup. Jordan Horston and Key each scored as the quarter closed with UT trailing, 18-17.

In the second,  Horston set off a 14-2 run that put Tennessee up 31-26 at 5:48  left. Burrell hit a 3 , her 18th points of the half and the Lady Vols led by 34-30 with 3:21 left. A Blackwell 3 and a Shug 

Dickson 3 at the buzzer put the Tigers up 36-34 at the break.

 Harper and Davis said the defense on the 3 was the second-half strategy. 

The Tigers built their lead to six at  5:26 of the third. Jordan Horston ignited a 7-2 UT before Missouri closed out the period with four-straight inside of 80 second and led by five heading into the finish.

Davis started her triumphant quarter with two 3s, while UT started to eliminate Tiger hopes. The 8-0 

A Lady Vol run put UT up by three.

Two free throws grew Davis’ fourth-quarter total to 14 and stretched UT’s lead to 71-66 with 4:36 to play. Blackwell rallied by setting off a 5-0 run that tied it with three minutes left.

Davis scored seven points in the closing minutes of a 9-2 run. Missouri had nothing left.

Davis said,  “I just wanted to whatever the team needs me to do. Credit to my teammates, they just kept encouraging  me.  I fed off the confidence they gave me.

“Defense that’s the way we won that game.” Harper said, as in all SEC games, there are no soft opponents.

“Coming into this game staff knew about it, the team knew this was going to be a tough game. You just don’t look at a state sheet and figure you’ve won.

“It took us a long time to kinda figure it out. We hung in there.

“The biggest thing about her (Burrell) is consistence. She can carry a team. She can score in a variety of ways. She had to be playing through the pain.

“A lot of teams have to choose who they’re going to put their best defender on. It didn’t have to be hindsight to know how big this was. The wanted to finish off strong. ”

Their season result in their own hands, Tennessee needed the Senior Day won to hold on for third in confidence and the double bye in the SEC tournament, the first since the 2015 tournament.

 They said good-bye to two surviving players of what was once the best recruiting class in America. Three have fled the previous administration, including one now starting at point for UConn and another at Arkansas. The idea being they are quality athletes.

So are the two that toughed it out in Knoxville: Davis and Kasiyahna Kushkituah.

UT lost three of four against ranked teams but they remain in the National Top 20, which means Harper will finish ranked. That used to be a gimme for UT.

Harper had prepared her team well to get ready for these closing games to achieve the season goals. 

“Missouri’s offense relies heavily on their ability to shoot the basketball, and their spacing is great,” she observed. “ The other thing you can always count on, and I think you see it, they improve in this area all year in that they are really intelligent. 

“So, whatever defensive game plan they have, they will execute it. And they can give you a variety of looks, because their kids are pretty savvy. They’re also really tough. They're just tough, and they are going to make hustle plays all night. They’re going to know what they need to do to be successful. So, I think matchup-wise, they can pose some problems, because they can play five perimeter players."

 She said the UT scheme had Davis asserting herself as her available games slip away.

“ Rennia was able to, in our South Carolina game, be a go-to player in that second half. We got her the basketball. She was feeling good, knocking down shots, making plays. (She) really got us back ahead and pushed us over the top. At Georgia, when we were stagnant early, she was one of the players actually making some shots. It wasn’t easy. I love to see that she is still able to find ways to be successful and be productive.”

 "I group them in a couple different categories. Obviously, with Jaiden (McCoy), we brought her in and due to injuries, it's been unfortunate that she's not been able to be on the court as much as we had hoped.”

“For Kasi and Rennia, just to see their growth in the small time that we had them has been really fun. I love all three of them, and I think they all have different personalities. 

“They've been fun to be around, and I'm proud of where they have helped this team go. If you’re missing that senior leadership and missing that senior experience really pulling strongly, it's a big piece, and obviously, that's been really important to our team."

She will regain a player next season.

“Obviously, with COVID and extra years, there are so many variables right now. We don't want to make decisions about those types of things until after the season is over, except for Keyen Green. 

“She’s in a different position. We knew she wasn’t going to have another opportunity to play this year, so we’ve had those discussions. As of right now, we are excited because she plans to come back next year.

“We are hoping for good weather, good travel, and an opportunity to practice. I think that is as important for us right now as anything. We are trying to really work on Tennessee rather than another team. I really feel like we’ve been focused on our opponents for the last couple weeks more so than us, so I’m excited we’ll get to work on us. 

“What I’d like to see is for us to clean up some of the things that we need to do, some of the things we’ve gotten away from in the couple weeks that could make us a better basketball team if we can get a little more consistent. 

“Some of that is on the defensive end, and some of it is on the offensive end. Before you go to the tournament, you want to make sure you’re cleaning up anything. You want to make sure if there is something that really stands out, that you’re working on that. 

“You want to review every defense you have, every offensive play, every thought you could possibly have, because you go over to Greenville and to the SEC tournament, you’ve got to pull out all the stops. You have to make sure your team is ready.” 

For the home finale and certifying the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament, Tennessee kept Auburn winless for the league season, 88-54.

The defense held Unique Thompson to six in the opening half, setting the defensive tempo

Rennia Davis had 15, with five rebounds at intermission, fashioning a fine farewell. UT led rebounds by nine and had their usual 10 turnovers.

Kasiyahna Kasiyahna and Tamari Key had six points each. The Lady Vols had gone 10 deep. 

UT hit 15 wins, this year’s NCAQA standard for inclusion. In nother years, UT also would have won two homes games to start the NCAAs, one of six league teams so designated by the NCAA Selection Committee. That’s another  nice marker for coach Kellie Harper in the rebuild of her second season.

It is UT's highest seeding at the league tourney since 2015. 

Davis only scored eight in the second half, doubling with 11 rebounds. 

Kushkituah scored six straight to start the fourth quarter, Horston added a 3 to give UT a 28-point lead less than two minutes in. Auburn cut the lead to 24 off back-to-back 3s with 3:32 left in the game, but that's as close as they would get

 Kushkituah logged a career-high 19 points and eight rebounds. Senior  Jaiden McCoy also was honored before the game but is out with injury.

Tamari Key posted a double with 10 points and 10 rebound. Jordan Horston scored 12. Rae Burrell scored 14 with  four assists.

The 23-point effort against Auburn was Davis' fifth straight game of 20 or more. She will enter the SEC Tournament having averaged 24.0 points and eight rebounds. It is the 37th double of her career, passing Glory Johnson to rank fourth all-time inn the program

The team had a season-best 25 assists. Horston  had a  career high of nine.

Key logged had four blocked shots, 146 career, 60 for the year .

 The Lady Vols outrebounded the Tigers 47-29. They have outrebounded 20 of 21 opponents this season. 

 "I told our team in the locker room after the game that I was really proud of them for this win, but I was also really proud of them this week,” Harper said.

“I thought we had a great week. I thought we had great focus, great practices, their mindset was exactly where it needed to be, and we came out and took care of business.

“ I'm glad that we were able to do that on Senior Day, and our seniors got to go out on a really high note. I'm proud of this team."

On how emotional the day was and how much she appreciates  KushkituahDavis, and  McCoy:

"Let me start with saying that it is not an emotional day for me at all, because we have so much basketball left ahead of us. If this were their last game, I would be a wreck right now, just to be quite honest with you. I love them and I just keep telling myself we're not to that point yet. 

“I will shed tears at some point, just not yet. I'll go ahead and speak to that. 

“Obviously, Jaiden was the first to say yes (to remaining on the team when she arrived), and to be able to come in, not knowing what it will look like, and I was so happy for her that it worked out where she could finish her career at home. 

“That's really special, and not many people have an opportunity to do that. When we got to campus after I was first hired, you have your meetings and you don't know where you're going to be, but it was really easy to know where both Kasi and Rennia stood, and how much they loved this program, and how much they love being at the University of Tennessee. 

“That, to me, is one big reason that they stayed, and I'm very grateful to them that they believed in our staff and our vision for their final years here, and that it could be something really special.

 “They've been awesome. They've been coachable. We've seen them through ups and downs, being able to grow as young women, and it just makes you smile. It really does, and I'm so happy to have been part of this journey with them."

On how important it is for the team for many players to score and if it makes her optimistic for the tournament:

"Any time that you can clear your bench and let everybody play and most players score and play some meaningful minutes, Iit's great for your team.

“ It's great for your comradery. Everybody out there practices just as hard as Rennia Davis and Rae Burrell and Kasi Kushkituah, but they don't always have the opportunities that they have. So, when you have a game like this, I'm really happy to be able to play a lot of people. 

“We've been in a really good space mentally, and if that carries over, and I hope that it will, that gives me great confidence going into the SEC Tournament."

"Going down the stretch, our team had (the double-bye) as a goal. We knew we needed to take care of business to give ourselves that opportunity. That's an improvement for us. 

“When you get there, I don't know that it'll help you on a Friday, but if you keep winning, that definitely helps you for Sunday. So, you've got to put yourselves in the best position to win three games. 

You have to take them one at a time, but  to win three games, having that double bye is important.

"For (Kushkituah) she was being so aggressive looking for opportunities, but we were also looking for her. You could see her teammates getting so excited for her every time she caught the ball to give her more opportunities to score. 

“That was really fun. We had a great preparation day yesterday where we did a really good job of sharing the basketball and looking inside to our post players, so it didn't surprise me that that's what we were doing. 

“It's just very rewarding when you see the team get so excited for one of their teammates."

At halftime, "I thought we got a little lax. The biggest message was, 'Continue to do what works. We don't have to do anything fancy. ‘If what we're doing is working, continue to do it.' 

“We talked about better ball movement. We talked about guarding a little better. We talked about boxing out. A lot of it was schematics at halftime. It was definitely more of sticking with the original game plan, because that's good. We were able to do that in the second half."

 So here she was, a world of difference from a year ago, even a difference from her preseason expectations.

"That seems like forever ago. A lot has happened since then, with ups and downs. This is where we would want the team. 

“We would want the team to have a balanced attack, both offensively and defensively, on the perimeter and in the paint. Having some resiliency, having a competitive team that can handle some adversity is what we wanted. We needed to see that. I think we've been able to check those boxes. I'm really proud of where we are right now and how far we've come. 

 "I thought our crowd was in it. I thought our fans were really engaged and loud. That was really fun. It's hard to do when you're spaced out. You lose a little bit of energy in the gyms this year.

“I'm so proud of our fans. I'm really excited for our team to be able to go out this way. They are so happy right now. They're thrilled with how we finished. I think they're also just really excited about the next step for us. They're in a really good space, and I'm excited for them."

She said Key and  Horston have demonstrated what they will contribute moving along.

"They're very key. I thought Tamari played really well. She didn't always get credit for some of the defensive possessions that she was involved in because she was in great position and didn't have to make a block, didn't have to get a rebound. 

“She was in great position, and that's all we needed her to do. On several of those, she just did her job.

“When you have people do their jobs at elite levels, that really helps. She played really well. 

Jordan Horston played really well. She did a good job of finding teammates and knocking down shots. She did a good job defensively. We were all on the same page. It's good when you have people giving you production in a lot of different areas. Obviously, you know what Kasi did, what Rennia  did and what Rae  did, but Horston and Tamari did an excellent job of giving us what we needed."

 Davis got a little emotional at her farewell to the home court.

"Senior Day just means so much,” she said “I thought I was going to be a little bit more emotional, but just thinking about this team, our potential, our ceiling, and just how much more basketball we have left to play, I just didn't allow myself to get down about today. 

“Obviously, I was sad about it being my last game,  but I truly feel like this team has so much more basketball left to play. The fans here, the atmosphere, and the culture that has been built here, everything has just been great. It was just a great ride."

 The double-bye, the only time in her career, "Means so much. It means a lot. Those teams that play on the last day, they're a little bit more rested than other teams, and we'll have a bit more time to be here in Knoxville to work on us. It just means a lot. It's been four years, and we finally got to this point. It means a lot."

 On what she would tell her 10-year-old self that was told that girls don't play basketball:

"Girls do play basketball. They do. Where I'm from, there aren't a lot of girls who play basketball, especially not a lot of girls who are good. 

“Now, being able to accomplish all the things that I've accomplished, girls do play basketball, and girls are good at basketball. 

“It's a sport that we can get some stuff done, too. We can dominate in this sport and any other sport. It's just empowering; it's just encouraging to myself and all the other girls out there. If anybody puts their mind to something, they can do it."

Classmate Kushkituah, said it was an easy decision to stay despite the coaching change .

"Just this program. This program is something special. Ever since I committed to this school, I've always known that there is something about this place that brings me here. 

“I would've never committed here if it wasn't for that. I've always been a Tennessee girl. Rennia and I always go back and talk about it. 

“Yes, we've been through it all, but throughout the whole journey, we became stronger through it, and we've learned so much. We had a great experience, and we are going to try take that into the next chapters of our lives. 

"It was great. Everything about this day was beyond anything I've ever wanted. It was just a great day. They had my back throughout the entire game. I missed a couple free throws, and they told me I got it. They showed me how to adjust, and they just kept my head up high. We've continued to grow as a team. 

 "This season was so special because playing through COVID was wild. I never thought I'd finish my senior season like that. 

“Despite all of that, we still found a way to come together. This is the closest we've ever been. 

“Everything happens for a reason, and this year we had the time to actually build chemistry and figure things out. We always found a way to regroup and come back stronger. I appreciate this team for that."

 Alaina Rice was the high scorer for Auburn with 11; Unique Thompson and Alycia Reese each finished with 10.

Arkansas swept two. as we projected

Opening the week at  Auburn, Amber Ramirez started scoring with a 3. that held for two minutes until Aicha Coulibaly scored for Auburn. Unique  Thompson started her final home game ever with an inside score at 7:21.

Chelsea Dungee had not found her  road rhythm and the Razorbacks were stagnant as a result.

It was a 14-10 Razorback quarter. Coulibaly  added a 3 to have half of the Tiger points. Destiny Slocum had five for No. 13 Arkansas

Auburn won the second,  20-15, for a one-point halftime edge. Dungee and Slocum each has seven.  Honesty Scott-Grayson of Auburn led everyone with 11.

Auburn also won the third, 22-18, leaving Arkansas with a 52-47 deficit. The Tigers were already down to 10 players due to injuries and a suspension when Cullibally had her left ankle  buckle. She stepped on an opponent’s foot trying to contest a shot on a drive.

She lay on the court in pain for several moments before trainers were able to get her upright.

She went to the locker room for treatment and eventually returned, but it looked bad at the moment.

Arkansas spread their scoring about, looking for the balance that would give them control.

The Razorbacks wore the Tigers down and left them winless in the conference with a 10-point advantage in the fourth for the 74-69 escape.

It started with a Dungee layup. Slocum fed Ramirez for a 3. A Dungee 3 kept the in it, still five down with 6:25 left.

Makayla Daniels made a layup and a free throw Erynn Barnum made a layup. A Daniels 3 at 4:33 tied it at 63.

Arkansas had to outscore them in the closing minutes. Auburn was gassed, Arkansas cooky efficient

Back-to-back 3s by Daniels and Ramirez made a gap. Slocum hit two free throws and the difference was seven.

Auburn did not score a basket in the final 4:24. Daniels scored nine if her 11 in the fourth.

Dungee and Slocum each scored 16. They each played 38 minutes. Dungee and Ramirez each had five 3s. Dungee was sixt below her league-leading average.  

Auburn had four 3s, but 18 turnovers. Thompson scored 8-of-10 at the line and scored 22 with 18 rebounds in her campus farewell. Scott-Grayson scored 4-of-5 from the line and finished with 18. 

She did lose her cool at one point, shouting invectives at Dungee, earning an unsportsmanlike technical

The magic number for Arkansas is they have scored 74 in every victory this 18-7 season, having more games than anyone else in America, six of the losses in conference. The Razorbacks were as high as they could get in the league, tied for sixth with final foe Alabama.

Neighbors said they were “inspired on the bus ride in”  by watching and listening to Razorback motivational tapes.

“There was a look in their eyes that once we got it down to 10 we’d be alright,” he said. 

“(Daniels) was more fresh because she sat with some foul trouble.” She had four at 8:16 in the third. Neighbors had to save her to direct the endgame

“Once we got going, it was really gutty,” he said. “Sometimes you say you never think you’re going to lose a game, but this one I never thought we’d win until that fourth.

“Our team never caved in to changes (due to Covid) but adjusted. That’s what I will remember about  this team.” 

Arkansas had played three more game than Alabama and had three more wins. The Tide were an impressive 8-2 on the road., but Arkansas was 11-1 at home and on a 4-0 win streak. Even in non-

Covid seasons, the NCAA counted the final five games as an important marker.

All-American Chelsea Dungee averages 22 points per game. 

This was their farewell to the home court, the anticipated first two NCAA games scotched like they were for all Top 16 teams in the draw.

Just through happenstance, Arkansas tipped off the last game of the regular season with the latest time start. They allowed in 4,400 fans, the second largest home crowd anywhere, topped by their own game against UConn.

The Razorbacks have the most games played in the country, 23, and have been up and down in the polls but always ranked.

The program, under Mike Neighbors, has reached the level that they should be ranked now more than not based on reputation and conference. They were 16th in the final NCAA reveal, which means they are among teams missing home NCAA games this season, at least five from conference.

For a team with seven listed seniors, they started the league inconsistently, losing to teams they should have overwhelmed while still making two all-time markers at home, first wins ever over UConn and defending national champ Baylor.

Of course, seeing Chelsee Dungee rise to All-America level, helps. This would be the last game of her three years at Arkansas, cheated off two games in the NCAAs opening rounds like so many seniors this season.

Alabama had a better team last season but would not have made the NCAAs. If the conference drags eight teams in this year, Alabama would be one of the teams gifted with inclusion. They can help themselves in the league tournament.

Arkansas joins Kentucky as the two most dangerous teams playing on Day One of the league get-together. Both are nationally ranked. 

Arkansas followed the template in the opening quarter against Alabama, a 26-17 edge. Amber Ramirez hit five 3s. The team had eight. Dungee was confident enough to watch her teammate have fun and scored five, with a 3.

In the second, Destiny Slocum was in the 3 business as well, with two. The already had 10 after another Ramirez 3 against an team average of  nine per game. Being the last home game, the catch-and-shoot plan was in full force.

On defense, Dungee showed leadership by taking a charge. Ramirez was up to 7-of-10 3s. Slocum also hit another.

The lead stayed steady at 15 as the half ticked away.

Alabama seemed disinterested in guarding at distance. Even shooting 50 percent from the floor was not getting it done.

An 11-0 Alabama run reduced the margin to nine but there were less than two minutes left.

Dungee broke the run with a 3. Arkansas got it back for a last shot. As So, in this second chance to earn a double-bye, as if they knew how to slow down.

They turned it over, but so did Alabama.

Ramirez had 23 points, Dungee had three 3s, 2-of-2 from the line and 13 points. Slocum also had three 3s.

It was 52-39.

By the end of the third, Alabama had made up three points. Ramirez did not score in the quarter. Dungee scored four as everyone hit a wall.

Three led the Tide in double figures, top by Ariya Copeland’s 15.

Alabama started the last quarter 5-0.

Assistant coach Todd Schaefer said, “Amber’s teammates did a great job of finding her. Today’s game was special for these kids because as a group it’s the last game here.

“All year, this is how we played, get ahead then slow down then finish. Even UConn took the lead before we won.

He said the team focus was evident in that they are the only team in America that played a complete schedule.

“It was dedication and determination,” he said.

Ramirez said, “For the last couple of games, I had a falloff. My teammates gave me the confidence. When I saw the first one g it, I said ‘Alright.’

“Tonight was different . The main adjustments were we kept moving the ball.

“Today was bittersweet. You never think the ball is going to stop bouncing. We’ve picked up more in SEC play. Playing good defense sets up our transition offense which we’re pretty good at.”

Neighbors said, “From the get-go it was very special throughout. “They’re 8-2 on the road so we knew a comeback was coming. But that’d why we play the way we play. They’ve been through it. To lead 36 minutes of the game is something,

“I asked (Amber) how does that feel. I have never felt that as a player.

“ I look at the game, but that’s what she does, make open 3s. If you look at our stat sheet, everyone did what they do.

“This is fhe first time since we’ve been here that we go into that (SEC) tournament that we know we’re in the NCAA tournament.

“We obviously had to say farewell to several players

“They talked about why they came here how we talked them in to it, how confident they are.

They set the SEC game record for 3 shots (19-of-39).

 “I know we’re hard to guard but that’s what got us going again, 94 points but 16 within the paint

“Our group is very tough. Look at the marathon we just ran.

“The last thing I want to add is congratulations to Coach Blair, I picked them No.1 at the start. I’m the guy who kept voting them No. 1 all year.

“He represented our league so well.”

So did 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 would 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.

Kentucky: New coach Kyra Elzy had a chance with a sweep to maintain tradition with a top four finish in conference. 

No other rookie coach has done that. No one still has.

The only first day SEC matchup involving ranked teams, the winner was in paced for a double-bye in next week’s league tournament

Rhyne Howard scored 27 as then No.19 Kentucky outlasted then No. 17 Georgia 62-58 in a road win. She was 4-of-4 on 3s

Kentucky (16-6, 9-5 SEC) got 15 points from Chasity Patterson.  Tatyana Wyatt had 11 points and six rebounds.

The points differential originated with UK’s six 3s, twice as many as the Bulldogs

Georgia scored first on a Jenna Staiti layup but Kentucky scored the next six, on a Patterson jumper, two free throws from Wyatt and a Howard driving layup.

Dre’una Edwards gave the Kats an 8-5 lead bvut6 then senior point guard Gabby Connally scored seven in a row to give the Bulldogs a 12-8 advantage. UK came back with four straight to tie it. \

Staiti scored a basket with 2:48 left and Howard a free throw to end the quarter 16-15, Georgia. 

Patterson hit two free throws, then Georgia scored the next five to lead in the second, 21-17, their last lead of the game.

Patterson started an 11-0 Kats run to bring it to 28-21 with 4:23 left in the half. Connally hit a 3, then the Kats scored six straight to grab a 10-point lead at the break with the 16-3 close, as much defensive as offensive.

Howard had a dozen points.

Georgia started the second half with eight of the first 10 points and the UK lead was four, seven at the end of the third. Howard had 16 to lead everyone. Kentucky led by seven as the fourth began.

In the fourth, the Kats started 1-for-7, the Bulldogs 2-for-7 from the field.

With 4:31 left, it was 56-49 UKStaiti scored twice inside, but baskets, but Howard hit her fourth 3. The lead was six with 2:48 left.

three-pointer of the game, giving UK a 59-53 lead with 2:48 to play. A Jordan Isaacs layup with 55 seconds remaining cut the UK lead to 59-55. It was all free throws to the  62-58 final score.

In support of Howard, Chasity Patterson scored 15. Staiti scored 16, Morrison and Connally 13 piece.

UK coach  Elzy said “It was our defensive intensity. We did a great job of building a wall and they couldn’t make the tough shots.”

She continued to promote Howard not just for league Plyer of the Year but for the national award.

“We talked to her about finishing with contact and she did that.

“She played with a little pep in her step. I don’t know if it was because she was coming to her last game in her home state of Georgia, but I loved she got on the offensive boards tonight.

“This was a vital game for us.”

But then came Ole Miss. Again

There are just some teams that seem to have the number of another, despite all the other season results.

Mississippi not only has No. 17 Kentucky’s number, it has it on speed dial. Despite the loss, UK rose two spots in the national poll.

In one of its worst offensive performances of the year, UK shot 31.8 percent from the field and went 6-of-26 on 3s at Oford. The Rebels outrebounded the Wildcats 49-34 and had a 42-20 advantage in paint points. 

Rhyne Howard did double, 26 points with 10 rebounds but was 2-of-10 from 3s. Ole Miss was led by Shakira Austin, 21 points with 12 rebounds, while Donnetta Johnson and Mimi Reid each had double figures.

Kentucky is 34-11 all-time in regular-season home finales (1974-75 season not included). The Kats had won 14 of their last 17 games on Senior Day.

The home finisher with Ole Miss ended the campus careers of Chasity Patterson and Kamerin Roach, with the coach that recruited them present. Matthew Mitchell was there to see them off. 

The Rebels average five more points (70) than the Kats allow. Kentucky averages 10 more points (73) the Ole Miss allows.

UK finished in third place, 17-6 overall. 

The other team with a new coach (Mississippi State) veered away from tradition and out of the elimination after seasons of high finishes. Two fine players had wasted senior seasons. One that fled, to Maryland, is in the playoffs.

Coaching changes can so negatively impact players, rewrite their histories and they can do nothing about it. It changes lives. There is no going back once a university makes a bad hire.

Yes  the players earn their degrees. But it is a dismal end to careers that started with so much more promise.

This rematch was more of a repeat.

With a chance to escape Day One of the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament, the Rebels delivered again with an explosive second half and timely defensive stops for a 73-69 road win.

"Man, what a huge win for us," said Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. "Just incredible. Really excited for our team, the way we fought. Just to get a win over a ranked team on the road, words can't describe how proud I am for this team and to get a bye for next week."

 Mississippi finishes an even season at 10-10, all the losses in conference against four SEC wins

The season sweep for Ole Miss  constitutes the first season sweep over the Wildcats in program history. The Rebels were hot both from the floor (44 percent) and the free throw line (21-of-25). 

Defensively, they forced the Wildcats to shoot less than 35 percent from the floor for the second consecutive matchup at 33 percent (22-for-66).

 Shakira Austin led Mississippi with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Her ninth double-double of the season was achieved in the first half. Donnetta Johnson scored 14 (5-of-8 ), including a string of baskets to begin the second half that helped overcome an 11-point deficit. 

SEC Ftreshman of the Week Madison Scott and Snudda Collins each finished with 12 points, Scott doubling with 10 rebounds. All of Collins' scoring came in the second half with four 3s.

Kentucky opened 12-9. The Wildcats got Johnson in early foul trouble as they used a jolt of momentum, including a 10-0 run to llead 22-13 at the end of the first quarter. Kentucky forced Ole Miss to miss six of their last seven field goals of the quarter while Rhyne Howard had an early eight points.

 Austin and Scott attacked the basket to get the Rebels back to five down, but Kentucky continued to find open looks and took a 10-point lead. With 37 seconds left in the half, Austin's strong layup-and-one cut the deficit to. The Rebels held Kentucky scoreless for the final 4:13 of the first half.

 Ole Miss shot 35 percent (9–for-26) from the floor with 14 points coming from the paint and 11 points off turnovers. Austin already had her ninth double-double of the season with 11 points (3-for-10)  and 10 rebounds. Howard led the Kats with 10. Defensively, the Rebels forced Kentucky to shoot 34 percent (11-for-32) while getting two blocks and six turnovers.

 Howard scored one basket un the second quarter

Austin had scored 11 and Ole Miss had tried 12 players. They were still hitting 35 percent from the field.

Austin had 16  points, despite hitting 4-of-16 from the field, with 8-of-10 free throws.

The momentum carried  into the second half for Ole Miss as two quick layups by Johnson forced Kentucky to call timeout just 46 seconds into the third , down 31-29. Johnson added another layup coming out of the timeout and a Collins 3r gave Ole Miss their first lead since the opening quarter, 34-31. Another 3 by Collins gave Ole Miss a six point lead before a Dre'una Edwards 3 snapped a 12-0 run in the quarter.

 The Rebels held a 39-34 lead through five minutes, by shooting 67 percent (6-for-9) in the third. A driving layup by Valerie Nesbitt gave her team a seven-point lead. UK, but K answered with a  7-0 run. After three, the Rebels led 43-42. In the third quarter, Ole Miss outscored Kentucky 18-11.

 After Kentucky cut the lead to one, Collins drained her third 3 two minutes into the fourth. Going into an Ole Miss timeout with 5:49 to go, the Rebels were hanging on to a 51-50 lead. The Kats forced a turnover and cashed in coming out of the timeout to take a 52-51 lead. Both teams continued to trade  all the way through the three-minute mark when Ole Miss held onto a 61-58 lead.

 With 63 seconds left, Collins nailed a corner 3 all alone to give the Rebels a 64-58 lead. Chasity Patterson drove the lane to cut the lead to four. After a foul by Howard, Austin sunk two free throws to make it a 66-60 with 42 seconds left. Scott also made two free throws to extend their lead to eight with 38 seconds to go. Howard immediately responded with an easy layup. Nesbitt followed that up going 1-for-2 at the line. But a Patterson 3 made it a four-point game again with 26 seconds left. Johnson continued to create separation with four consecutive free throws, giving Ole Miss a 73-67 lead with 13 seconds left. The Rebels hung on the rest of the way, pulling off the upset yet again.

 As for the UK seniors, Patterson started every game this season. She averaged 13 points per game with 62 assists. She  leads the Southeastern Conference and ranks top five nationally with 70 season steals, which has made her a semifinalist for the 2021 Naismith Women’s Defensive Player of the Year award. The native of Houston will graduate in May with a degree in media arts and studies and plans to pursue professional basketball.

Kameron Roach  has played in 34 career games, the ultimate teammate since arriving on campus four year ago. The native of Hopkins, S,C, played in six games this season. A three-year member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll, Roach is a member of UK’s prestigious Frank G. Ham Society of Character. Roach graduated in December with a degree in kinesiology and health promotion and is pursuing her master’s degree in the same field.

Seniors KeKe McKinney and Tatyana Wyatt have elected to return for an additional year of eligibility in 2021-22. 

Georgia: In its comeback season to the NCAA eliminations, at Florida gained a national cablecast. No. 16 Georgia had defeated the  Gators at home by 10 at home and completed the season sweep. They finished in fifth and get to skip the opening round of the SEC tournament.

Georgia has won eight straight in the series

Each came in having lost its previous game

Statistical trends were pretty even but Florida still managed to not upset anyone this season, a difference from recent annual efforts. 

For instance, they won at Kentucky and Arkansas last season.

Graduate students Emily Sullivan and Cydnee Kinslow and seniors Kiki Smith and Danielle Rainey were honored in a pre-game ceremony. 

Coach Cam Newbauer was hoping to even the season at 11, after finishing15-15 last year. He started his career as an assistant with both the men’s and women’s Georgia teams.

Covid losses have limited the Gators improvement chances. Newbauer had to isolate during this season He is in his third season, so the team is not yet completely his.

SEC network viewers were treated to a broadcast by former Tennessee coach Holly Warlick.

She usually does ACC games. She brought her coaching insights to this one.

She was on her game, pointing out the expected domination of the Georgia guards.  Que Morrison stole the initial inbounds and flew to a layup and it was on

Florida could not keep Jen Staiti off the boards. Faith Dut, the 6-4 Gator from British Columbia, got into immediate foul trouble, two with 8:21 left in the quarter. Staiti was unfettered inside,  eight of the first 10 points, 3-of-5 with 2-of-2 free throws.

But Florida would not fade . A Nina Rickards layup put the home team ahead by three half the quarter gone. It was a healthy 18-18 with two minutes left.

It wound down to a 24-22 Georgia quarter, 16 points in the paint. Staiti had 10. Rickards had eight as the Gators hit 58 percent from the field,

Emily Sullivan, a grad transfer from North Carolina,  was filling in nicely inside for the Gators.

They started collapsing on Staiti, Georgia was loathe to try from the outside. That kept the score close. Florida just needed a little spree, but seven turnovers and misses were self-destructive. Jordyn Merritt, a freshman Gator, missed two free throws. Sullivan fought for a layup and the difference was two.

Defense had tightened for each side. Maybe Florida was giving in to UK pressure. Sullivan scored again in only her 13th game opportunity of the season. A Merrittt jumper tied it at 28. Georgia had one basket in three minutes.

Floor Toonders, a freshman from the Netherlands, put the home team ahead at 33-30 with a layin and a free throw. She cleaned up another one, sprinting downcourt for a putback and a seven-point advantage.

the 19-15 quarter had Florida ahead at half, 41-39. The Gators had done this before, play a good team close, but somehow allowing a late escape.

This is why they are growing still. Even without leading scorer Lavender Briggs, now  missing her third game of a curtailed season with a foot injury, they are still competitive with a national Top 20 team.

Staiti had 14 with seven rebounds. Gabby Connally picked up a second foul trying to block out and had one basket so guard play was reduced.

Ricketts had 10, Toonders and Merritt nine. Toonders averages three, Merritt five. Dut had yet to score.

Each side was a little sloppy, Florida with 10 turnovers and Georgia with nine. Georgia had risen to 51 percent from the field. Neither side was utilizing 3s.

So hope was in the lineup for the home team. An 8-5 Georgia start of the third put them back on top, but Florida answered right back. Georgia applied pressure, slowly but surely and forced a six-point advantage.

Staiti added a 3 to her arsenal and had 23 points at the 67-63 third quarter break. Maya Caldwell had 17 as the inside game was dominating. They won the quarter by six.

Florida just needed to find a push. Merritt, Rickards  and Toonders had 14 each. It was Toonders’ game of the season. Each side was hitting more than half their shots. The Gators’ 11-of-16 from the line were keeping them competitive. Not a factor: 3s.

In the fourth, the Georgia escape was completed, 95-80. In future seasons, if everyone is healthy, Florida will win a game like this having played a challenge like this.

Three straight layups made the difference nine within the first minutes. Staiti still lurked around if needed. Non one could limit her. Makayla Coombs had 11 off the bench, 5-of-5 from the field for next season’s starting guard

An eight-point lead was mammoth in this one and 57 percent from the floor was why. The lead climed to 10, then 15 which had to depress the Florida emotions. It was looking like an easy victory in an uneasy game, the Georgia seniors imposing experience over enthusiasm. Georgia coach Joni Taylor was already composing an “all credit to” post-game summary in her head.

Florida had four with at least 14 points, led by senior Kiara Smith, Merritt and Toonders with 16.

The monster inside, Staiti, scored 30 and doubled with 13 rebounds. Caldwell was 11-of-15 for 27 with two 3s. 

The ’Dawgs, mostly on their inside game, hit 57 percent from the floor. They had won their 17th.

“We’ve been able to score, but our defense . . .” said Newbauer.

“They have too many weapons on the floor and Staiti inside. How they get after you defensively is what happens.”

He is still charting the growth of his younger players.

“What was great was the reads,” he said. “They are playing like basketball players. A comfort level. Their confidence. They did not look like freshmen.

But ultimately, defensively, they had us. Go Gators.”

Georgia coach Taylor said, “For us to get a win today after falling short on Thursday speaks to the resilience of this team and their ability to process, build and learn in real time, then prepare and get ready for the next game. 

"I think they understand how important it is.”

Seniors Connally , Morrison, Staiti and Maya Caldwell already have completed degree requirements.


SEC NOTES: In conjunction with SEC Network, the Southeastern Conference presented an important min-documentary, dialogue about racial and social equality in sports with "Beyond the Whiteboard: SEC Coaches Conversation."

It can be accessed: www.secsports.com/video/30481501/coaches-conversation.

Host Maria Taylor was with the seven Black women who are women's basketball coaches in the SEC: Nikki Fargas (LSU), Nikki McCray-Penson (Mississippi State), Yolett McPhee-McCuin (Ole Miss), Dawn Staley (South Carolina), Joni Taylor (Georgia) and Terri Williams-Flournoy (Auburn). Kyra Elzy (Kerntucly). The interviews were filmed before Elzy took over at the very start of the season, but she had been a top assistant for eight seasons and does comment.. Two of them have completed their first season while Staley is the second-longest serving league coach.

These seven are more than the rest of the top schools in Division 1  combined. Among featured discussion topics are racial injustice, Black women in leadership on and off the court, and  the importance of trailblazers in the sport. As McPhee-McCuin notes, sometimes it is just about being Black. Staley adds the perspective of being heard on campus, of being included in campus conversations. But they are all insightful.

In the summer of 2020, the SEC was among many around the world witnessing the unrest and demonstrations in countless cities and communities after the deaths of African American men and women in Minneapolis, Louisville and Brunswick, Georgia. Those events ignited a movement around the equitable treatment of all historically underrepresented individuals, and Black in particular. At that time, the SEC took steps to gather and understand perspectives from a range of stakeholders, including student-athletes, presidents and chancellors, directors of athletics, senior woman administrators, faculty athletics representatives, various sport head coaches, mental health professionals and the SEC staff -- ultimately establishing the SEC Council on Racial Equity and Social Justice in response. 


The conference also, in a continuing effort to recognize the accomplishments of student-athletes beyond the field of competition created a Community Service Team recognitions, for the 23rd season.


The team found alternate ways to stay involved and engaged in the Tuscaloosa community and beyond. 

Members of the team were instrumental in the athletics department's Civic Engagement group, assisting with voter registration amongst fellow student-athletes and staff members. Tthe team itself had a 100 percent voter registration rate and participated in events such as Rise to Vote and Vote.org

Towards the end of the summer, the team participated in a Unity march with several other teams on campus and were part of Alabama's “Be the Change” PSA that airs before all home events.

In February, the team participatid in the Advancement of Blacks in Sports Historical Hidden Figures initiative where they selected Alabama's Faculty Athletics Representative, Dr. James King Jr., as their honoree. Additionally, the team engaged with fans through virtual team events and has read books via virtual platforms to the Alberta Head Start program.


Macy Weaver, senior forward from Davis Junction, Ill., was singled out 

for staying involved in her community. 

During this season, on top of her classes and commitment to her sport,  Weaver dedicated time to write letters of reassurance and thanks to health care workers, while also corresponding with players in the Miracle League who had their seasons canceled. 

She also participated in Book Hogs, a program designed to read to local school children.


Led by senior Unique Thompson and redshirt junior Kiyae' White, the team remained engaged in community service efforts and social justice initiatives through the trying 2020-21 season. 

Through the efforts of Auburn's SAAC, the team participated in voter registration drives in the fall. Thompson and White participated in an Auburn Athletics Social Justice Forum in October, along with coach Terri Williams-Flournoy. Both players were involved in social justice meetings with Director of Athletics Allen Greene and other Auburn student-athletes. 

Thompson has been active with Auburn's SAAC, and White has been part of SAAC, Auburn CONNECT, the SEC's Women's Basketball Leadership Council and Council on Racial Equity and Social Justice.


Faith Dut, sophomore forward from  Vancouver, B.C.was singkled out

as  a founding member of the Black Student Athlete Council , a group that she helped launch in May May. Serving as one of the team voices on the council, helped serve as a liaison between the 

Black student athlete-athlete population on campus  and the administration. 

Acting as an advocate for Black student-athletes on campus, Dut, a journalism major, and her colleagues meet bi-weekly to discuss experiences and issues. Bringing forth a  perspective, the Canada native played a key role in the #GatorsVote campaign in the fall and helped create social media campaigns to continue to raise awareness regarding the Council's social justice movement. 

Dut and representatives from for across all the Gators' athletic teams, helped organize marches and other events that aimed to call out racial inequality and helped form community bonds and drive change through conversations, workshops, collaboration with others, and action.


“Show Up” has been the theme for the team this year. coach Joni Taylor and her staff issued a challenge to their players to show up, not just on the court, but also in the community. 

Georgia has played an active role during the COVID-19 crisis and in social justice initiatives. 

As a team, Georgia collected close to 150 water bottles for the Boys & Girls Club of Athens in September. 

Taylor, along with several student-athletes, issued a challenge on social media, asking supporters to drop off new, re-fillable water bottles at Stegeman Coliseum. The community responded in a big way, with more than r 80 bottles collected in the first two hours alone. 

For the Boys &Girls Club, COVID protocols eliminated the use of water fountains, so the organization needed new, re-fillable water bottles. When the Lady Bulldogs found out about this, they immediately wanted to help. Georgia also helped donate Christmas gifts to families at Stroud Elementary and collected food items for the Northeast Georgia Food Bank. 

Through coach Joni Taylor's Beyond Basketball organization, the Lady Bulldogs also took in donations of snacks for The Cottage of Athens -- a non-profit that raises awareness of sexual assault and child abuse. 

The team wase also active in the Georgia Way's “ ’Dawgs to the Polls” initiative, which worked to ensure that every student-athlete at UGA was registered to vote. During the election season, Georgia women's basketball student-athletes volunteered many hours to serve at polls around the area.


The team, during the  offseason, brought  to bring awareness to police brutality, studying how these issues affect the Black community, encourage their peers to exercise their right to vote, demand justice for injustices, provide mental health information and resources and spread the love through these tough times. 

The team staged meetings to organize, plan and execute on their own a social justice march and unity fair through campus. The team led a walk-through campus to start the day's events, followed by a Unity Fair to have conversations with peers and others in the community. The team invited the UK Police Department chief to come and participate in a question-and-answer segment. The mid-September event was attended by other sports teams at UK, employees, fans, and community members.

Louisiana State

The team worked to bring awareness to the social injustices faced by the Black community. 

Senior Karli Seay led on voter registration education, leading to a video that encouraged eligible voters to become registered voters in each state represented on the team. 

Sophomore Domonique Davis became one of the founding leaders of the LSU Black Student-Athlete Association. She was instrumental in coordinating a joint unity rally with Southern University in June and a BSAA-led departmental rally in September. The team participated in both events. 

During the summer months, the team participated in Zoom calls with Black alumni, Baton Rouge law enforcement leaders, and the East Baton Rouge Parish district attorney's staff to learn their program history and share concerns with community leaders. 

The team participated in the Historical Hidden Figures program in conjunction with ABIS and BLAAC to honor Black alumni and bring history to the local elementary schools through pre-filmed book readings. In addition to student-athlete involvement, coaches and members of the staff are serving as members of LSU Athletics three diversity and inclusion councils -- Leadership, Staff and Coaches, and Student-Athlete Councils.


The team worked together in several different capacities to not only serve the Lafayette-Oxford-University community, but to also fight against systemic racism and promote social justice initiatives. 

The team led the department as its first to achieve 10 -percent voter registration, and also participated in several Zoom sessions to better understand the importance of voting and examine the 2020 ballot. 

The team participated in two different student-athlete led marches, including one to protest the Confederate statue that stands on The Square in Oxford. 

On social media, the team helped curate a campaign highlighting the identities of minority student-athletes and produced two PSAs highlighting the injustices Blacks face today -- one of which played before each Ole Miss home game. 

Ole Miss has also participated in the ABIS/BLAAC Historical Hidden Figures program, which honors Black alumni and included staff members conducting virtual book readings to local schoolchildren. 

As part of the Stronger Together initiative in conjunction with all Mississippi schools, the Ole Miss women focused on engaging the community in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work focusing on literacy, financial literacy, and food sustainability. 

The Ole Miss women advanced literacy efforts by reading several books to students at elementary schools in the Delta, and the team also created 150 snack bags for children in the Delta who were impacted by food insecurity. Additionally, the team adopted a family to provide Christmas to a family in the Oxford community.

Mississippi State 

Myah Taylor,   junior guard from  Olive Branch, was singled out as a leader both on and off the court, for her contributions  in the Starkville community during her last four years. This season, she was involved in two community service events. 

The first was a video recording that was sent to encourage frontline workers for their service during the pandemic. Taylor has been a part of several trips to local hospitals during the past two years to support workers and patients. 

The second event was a Auxiliary Reading Railroad. Taylor partnered with organizations around Mississippi to read to children. Since 2019, she's recorded nearly 10 hours of community service.


Organized by Mizzou's Black Student-Athlete Association, members of the team participated in a September march through campus to display a show of unity against racial inequality. The team carried on the display of unity into the season, participating in a moment of unity before every home game. In addition, the team has had numerous team meetings and discussions revolving around world issues, in an attempt to build a better tomorrow for everyone.

The team remained active within the community despite the pandemic, participating in virtual events with the Boys & Girls Club and read the morning announcements for a local elementary school during the month of February.

South Carolina

Laeticia Amihere , a sophomore forward  from Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, was singled out as she continued to make an impact on many aspects of the community through her work with the homeless, the underserved and children. She took leadership roles in organizing food drives for underserved communities and a drive to collect Christmas presents and pandemic-related necessities for a children's shelter. She has volunteered at Transitions homeless shelter and wrote Christmas letters for Children's Hospital. 

Amihere has also been involved in various social justice activities at the University, including overseeing various voter registration initiatives. She organized and orchestrated a campus-wide Zoom call to speak about efforts to improve campus diversity. In addition to engaging with petitions to spark systematic changes on campus, she has attended and spoken at rallies in support of changing building names.


The Lady Vols offered their time and energy at Sunshine Industries, an organization serving special needs adults in the Knoxville area; participated in UT Women's Hoops' annual "adopt a family" event for Christmas, chipping in to buy toys, clothing and other items for a local family in need; volunteered with the Salvation Army; read virtually to children, including a Black History Month series featuring selected excerpts from Jamia Wilson's book, "Young, Gifted and Black"; distributed card-making kits with Knox Area Rescue Ministries; assisted in food collection packaging with FISH pantries; and ran collaboratively in the Forget Me Not 5K for Alzheimer's, which benefits the Pat Summitt Foundation.

Texas A&M

The Aggies have used their platform in many different ways during this offseason and the 2020-21 campaign. 

They brought to light multiple cause such as Black LIves Matter, family and women's rights during their "Why" game. Each player and coach wore shoes with illustrations on them of their "Why" on national television. 

The team organized a blood drive for individuals with sickle cell, where they collected enough donations to save upwards of 133 lives. 

Team captain Ciera Johnson helped found the Black Leaders who Undertake Excellence a student-athlete led organization to provide leadership opportunities and a sense of community while empowering Black individuals to use their voice. The team participates in many of the functions and are helping educate student-athletes, staff members and local residents. 

The team took to social media and used their voice to encourage individuals to vote in their local and national elections. It created its own video echoing the importance of exercising that right and put out informative messaging on a consistent basis. 

Led by sophomore Jordan Nixon, the team created a women's support group made up of local professionals that teach the team how to use their voice for the future. When George Floyd was killed, the Aggies helped organize a Unity Walk with the A&M Athletics Department. The peaceful demonstration toured the campus and offered individuals to speak on the events that were occurring nationally.


Vanderbilt women's basketball's team members worked together throughout the year to fight for social justice, combat childhood illiteracy and host a Miracle Child from the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's 

Hospital at Vanderbilt. As a team, the Commodores created, edited, and produced their own video message for the Black Lives Matter movement in the pursuit of social justice and equity for all, which encouraged everyone to be the change they want to be in the world, as well as to volunteer, vote and donate. 

As part of those efforts, through Vanderbilt's newly formed Black Student-Athlete Group, several Commodores volunteered for the voter registration drive for Nashville residents at Vanderbilt Stadium. 

The team program benefiting the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt also sponsored Mr. C's Reading Club challenge in February. The reading program encourages students in pre-K through fifth grade at Metro Nashville Public Schools, and the Commodores provided live book readings via zoom to local elementary schools throughout the month. 

In addition, the Commodores have hosted via zoom their 12-year-old Miracle Child, Megan, who had  brain bleeding and underwent surgery. As part of the initiative, the Commodores have raised money for Dancing Dores, the annual philanthropy.

Another national award picked Rennia Davis (Tennessee) and Unique Thompson (Auburn) in the final 10 for the Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School (CLASS) honor. Its qualification: The student-athlete must be classified as a NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: Community, classroom, character and competition. Two others. N’dea Jones (Texas A&M), and Destiny Slocum (Arkansas) were among initial qualifiers this season.

As we previously reported, there will be no McDonald’s All-Star game in Chicago for a second straight season. But the team was still decided.

South Carolina underlined the best recruiting class with Sania Feagin, Aubryanna Hall, Raven Johnson and Saniya Rivers. Georgia has in-state player Jillian Hollingshead and Reigan Richardson. Arkansas has in-state player Jersey Wolfenbarger.

Aliyah Boston (South Carolina) and Chasity Patterson (Kentucky) are among the10 finalists for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year.

The statistical leaders this season, conference games only: Scoring, Chelsea Dungee (Mississippi State); Rebounder, Aijha Blackwell­ (Missouri); Field Goal Percentage Ariyah Copeland­ (Alabama); 

Assists Destanni Henderson (South Carolina);  Steals Average . Koi Love­ and Yaubryon Chambers­ (Vanderbilt); 3s Made and 3s Percentage Jasmin Walker (Alabama); Blocked Shots and Defensive 

Rebounds Aliyah Boston (South Carolina); Minutes Played Lavender Briggs (Florida); Offensive Rebounds  Unique Thompson (Mississippi).

Teams: South Carolina scoring offense,  field goal percentage defense, rebounding offense, rebounding defense, rebounding margin, blocked shots, and scoring margin; Texas A&M scoring defense, defensive rebounding percent and 3 shooting percentage and steals; Arkansas free throw percentage, 3s made and turnover margin; Missouri shooting percentage and assists; LSU steals; Georgia 3 defense percentage; Rebounds.



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