During a chaotic opening week of conference action — with the women’s college hoops world seeing a number of stunning upsets — things mostly went as expected in the SEC.
Although Georgia (11-5, 0-2) used a strong first half to put a bit of scare into South Carolina (14-0, 2-0) on Monday night, the nation’s No. 1 team escaped with a relatively comfortable win in Athens behind career-high 31 points from Zia Cooke. The victory, combined with a much more dominating win over Texas A&M in Columbia last Thursday, makes the Gamecocks one of five teams that finished the first week of SEC play at 2-0.
Here’s a quick recap of the other four undefeated teams, the four .500 squads and five winless ones after two games:
2-0 teams: South Carolina, LSU, Tennessee, Ole Miss & Missouri
Untested during an incredibly soft non-conference slate, No. 7 LSU’s (14-0, 2-0) opening-week performances indicated that the easy schedule did not inflate the quality of the Lady Tigers. Against a then-ranked Arkansas team with ambitions of breaking into the SEC’s upper crust, LSU quickly scuttled any notions of an upset in Fayetteville on Thursday, breezing to the 69-45 victory.
In her SEC debut, Angel Reese continued her dominance with another double-double of 19 points and 16 rebounds. After Vanderbilt kept things close through one quarter on Sunday, LSU took control for another win of more than 20 points, led by a 21-point, 17-rebound double-double from Reese, her 14th straight. Reese’s double-doubles also might be contagious, as Flau’jae Johnson notched her third double-double with 10 points and 11 boards against Arkansas and Alexis Morris registered her first career double-double with 15 points and 12 assists over Vanderbilt.
Bludgeoned by a brutal non-conference schedule that, in addition to injuries and other issues, seemed to be turning this season into a rocky flop, Tennessee (10-6, 2-0) appears to be finding its footing, following up an inspiring defeat at No. 2 Stanford with three-consecutive wins, including victories at Florida, 77-67, and over Alabama, 89-76. The reincorporation of Rickea Jackson has boosted the Lady Vols. As a super-scoring sub, Jackson dropped 28 and 22 points in her first two SEC games sporting the Big Orange.
After cruising to a home win over Auburn on Thursday, Ole Miss (13-2, 2-0) defeated in-state rival Mississippi State on Sunday, the Rebels’ first win in Starkville since 2007. The Rebels pulled away in the fourth quarter to secure the 61-50 win, holding the Bulldogs to a mere six points in the final period. Angel Baker led the Rebels in scoring in both contests, totaling 18 and 22 points, respectively.
Predicted to finish 12th in the conference ahead of the season, Missouri (13-2, 2-0) is the most surprising squad to survive the first week of SEC play at 2-0. Yet, it should not be surprising that it was a pair of 20-plus-point performances from Hayley Frank that spurred Missouri to two wins, a 74-71 home win over Kentucky followed by a 62-56 road victory over Auburn.
1-1 teams: Arkansas, Alabama, Florida & Mississippi State
Arkansas (14-3, 1-1) rebounded from a dispiriting loss to LSU with a resounding 71-50 win at Kentucky, demonstrating that, although the Hogs may not belong among the SEC’s best, their strong start to the season was not a fluke. Erynn Barnum and Saylor Poffenbarger put up matching 17-point efforts to help the Razorbacks run away from the Wildcats.
On Thursday, Alabama (12-3, 1-1) managed to hold off a Georgia comeback for a three-point win. However, a poor second quarter doomed the Tide at Tennessee on Sunday. Florida (12-3, 1-1) met a similar fate against the Lady Vols, falling at home to Tennessee on Thursday before using a strong fourth quarter to get the 55-48 road win over A&M in College Station.
Before a fourth-quarter drought sealed Mississippi State’s (12-3, 1-1) Sunday loss to Ole Miss, newly-minted 1,000-point scorer Jesskia Carter posted 21 points and nine boards for the Bulldogs as they opened the conference season with a nearly-30-point win at Vanderbilt.
0-2 teams: Georgia, Auburn, Kentucky, Vanderbilt & Texas A&M
Of all the winless teams, Georgia has to be most dismayed by their status. If they had taken the court in Tuscaloosa last Thursday with the intensity and focus they demonstrated when hosting South Carolina on Monday night, Georgia likely would not be winless. Moving forward, the Lady Dawgs will be better situated to get a win if Diamond Battles, held to one-point in both games, can rediscover her offensive aggression and scoring chops.
The other four 0-2 teams likely will populate the bottom of the SEC standings in 2023. Kentucky (8-6, 0-2) and Texas A&M (5-7, 0-2) are facing transitional seasons, with the Wildcats forming a new identity after Rhyne Howard’s reign in Lexington and the Aggies’ establishing a new era under head coach Joni Taylor. Vanderbilt (9-7, 0-2) and Auburn (10-4, 0-2) will look to build on last season’s small signs of positive progress, as head coaches Shea Ralph and Johnnie Harris, respectively, aim to continue to restore previously proud programs.