SEC set to flex women’s hoops muscle this weekend
The Southeastern Conference is making a convincing case that
it’s even stronger and deeper than usual this season.
It has a chance to make an even bigger statement this
The SEC has five teams in the Top 25, three ranked in the top
10: No. 3 Tennessee, No. 5 Kentucky and No. 10 South Carolina. No.
12 LSU and No. 16 Georgia are the other SEC teams in the Top 25.
Arkansas is unranked but unbeaten.
”All of our coaches have talked about being the best conference
in the country, and I think it’s moving in that direction,” South
Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. ”We just have to continue.”
This weekend represents a showcase opportunity for the SEC.
Tennessee (10-0), off to its fastest start since its 2008
national title, visits No. 6 Stanford on Saturday. Kentucky (11-0),
which has matched its best start in school history, hosts No. 2
Duke on Sunday.
”I think it will be huge step with us and Kentucky to really
launch the SEC onto the national level,” Tennessee forward Cierra
Tennessee and Kentucky are two prime contenders to end the SEC’s
recent absence from the Final Four.
The SEC hasn’t produced a Final Four team since Tennessee’s 2008
championship season. Before this current drought, the SEC had at
least one Final Four representative in 25 of the first 27 NCAA
Several teams have come close.
Tennessee has lost in a regional final three straight years.
Kentucky has played in three regional finals over the last four
seasons. Georgia lost in overtime to California in a regional final
and LSU reached a regional semifinal last season.
But they haven’t gotten over the top.
”I think our inability to win a national championship in the
last few years maybe gives people this perception that we’re not as
strong a league,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. ”But I
thought it was a tough league last year, a deep league last year.
We ended up with four teams in the Sweet Sixteen and three in the
Elite Eight. I would be a person who’d say it’s just sort of
business as usual in the SEC. It’s a really deep, strong
Georgia coach Andy Landers doesn’t believe Final Four
appearances accurately measure a conference’s strength. He prefers
to look at a conference’s overall depth. The SEC received seven
NCAA tournament bids last season and eight in 2012.
Landers said the league might be even deeper this year.
”I think by the end of this year, there could be three or four
you could kind of group together” at the top, Landers said. ”Then
you go to the middle and there are probably going to be more in the
middle than there were last year – a greater number of teams you’d
group as somewhat even. And I think the gap between those and the
No. 1, 2 or 3 team in the league is going to be smaller.”
Landers has seen many of the highs and lows in SEC women’s
basketball history because he’s coached Georgia since 1979. He was
there when the SEC sent multiple teams to the Final Four. His
Georgia program also was one of only four SEC teams to reach the
NCAA tournament in 2011.
He believes the SEC is back on the upswing.
”I think our league over a three-year period has started to
come back,” Landers said. ”It isn’t quite back to where it was in
the late `80s and the `90s, but it’s on its way back. It’s going to
get back. It’s much better this year than it was three years ago.
It may be too early to say, but it’s probably better this year than
it was a year ago. I think there are better players in the league,
and they’re spread out. They’re not all on one or two teams.”
AP Sports Writers Gary Graves in Lexington, Ky., and Pete
Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.