KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Southeastern Conference women’s basketball race is turning into a battle of attrition.
When Tennessee center Isabelle Harrison tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee Sunday, she joined Kentucky point guard Janee Thompson and Georgia’s Shacobia Barbee among notable SEC players with season-ending injuries.
”It does seem like there have been a few more” injuries than usual, Georgia coach Andy Landers said, ”and the ones there have been have been significant.”
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Injuries will impact teams’ postseason runs. The SEC is trying to earn a berth the Final Four for the first time since Tennessee and LSU got there during the Lady Vols’ 2008 championship season. Texas A&M won the 2011 national title, but as a Big 12 member.
Other teams across the country also have endured injury problems.
For example, North Carolina forward Xylina McDaniel, the 2013 Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year, hasn’t played for the 17th-ranked Tar Heels since injuring her lower right leg on Dec. 21. Texas, which once was ranked as high as third, has tumbled out of the Top 25 since losing forward Nneka Enemkpali to a torn ACL.
But the SEC has been hit particularly hard.
”Is that maybe just because we’re such a physical conference?” Tennessee forward Cierra Burdick asked. ”I don’t know. That’s tough to say. We’ve taken some hits. But I think great teams take hits and they keep moving forward and they bounce back.”
No. 2 South Carolina (24-1, 12-0 SEC) has stayed pretty healthy in its quest for a second straight conference title, but other schools haven’t been as fortunate. No. 6 Tennessee (22-3, 12-0) lost its leading scorer and rebounder Sunday when Harrison tore her ACL in a 72-58 victory over No. 11 Kentucky, which was ranked 10th at the time.
Tennessee forward Jasmine Jones, who started six of the Lady Vols’ first 11 games, also is out for the season with concussion-related symptoms. Tennessee announced before the season it was redshirting reserve center Mercedes Russell due to foot problems.
The Lady Vols host Alabama (13-14, 2-10) on Thursday before visiting South Carolina on Monday in a game that likely will determine the SEC regular-season champion. Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick wants her team to respond the way it did against Kentucky.
”I haven’t heard anybody feeling sorry for themselves or saying, `We’re in trouble,’ ” Warlick said. ”They’re fighters. After Izzy went down, I thought we fought. We very easily could have folded our tent and got home, and we took it to another level, a level that I haven’t seen all year.”
Missouri (14-12, 4-9) has lost point guard Lianna Doty to a torn Lisfranc ligament and forwards Kayla McDowell and Bri Porter to torn ACLs.
Kentucky (19-6, 8-4) has been playing without Thompson since she dislocated her left ankle and broke her fibula Jan. 11. Makayla Epps has averaged 20 points per game since taking over as Kentucky’s starting point guard, helping the Wildcats go 5-3 in Thompson’s absence.
”I’m real proud that the team has carried on and didn’t go into a nose dive,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. ”We’re still competing hard and I still think we have some great basketball in front of us.”
Georgia (17-8, 5-7) hasn’t responded as well to the absence of Barbee, who was leading the Lady Bulldogs in scoring before breaking a bone in her lower right leg. The Lady Bulldogs also lost reserves Jasmine Carter and Nasheema Oliver to season-ending injuries.
The Lady Bulldogs were 17-3 and ranked 22nd on Jan. 25 when Barbee got hurt during a 59-51 loss to Tennessee. Georgia hasn’t won since.
”She made plays on both ends of the floor,” Landers said. ”Cobi’s one of those very versatile players. It’s not like she was (just) our shooter or our ball handler. She was our playmaker.”
AP Sports Writer Gary Graves in Lexington, Kentucky, contributed to this report.