By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Welcome to the first edition of a new column here on the SEC Digital Network called the Pick N’ Roll. It's sole focus will be Southeastern Conference women’s basketball and, unlike some other columns on our site, it won’t appear just once a week at regularly scheduled intervals. A new Pick N’ Roll column will appear whenever there is relevant and interesting news regarding the women's hoops game.
Coming off the first weekend of play, here’s a quick look at what we’ve learned from each team after their season debuts.
Make sure you have your game program ready when you watch the Crimson Tide. There are seven newcomers on this year’s roster, four of whom are eligible to play this season. Three of those fresh faces are junior college transfers, including the No. 1 ranked JUCO player Kyra Crosby. Leading those newcomers will be Alabama’s standout senior Erika Russell who, in the Crimson Tide’s 72-51 season-opening win against Nicholls State on Saturday became the 23rd member of Alabama’s 1,000-point club. The Crimson Tide won’t face a true test until traveling to the Paradise Jam over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Things look very familiar for the Razorbacks so far this season. Arkansas played 13 games a year ago that were decided by five or fewer points and achieved a 7-6 tally in those contests. In the Razorbacks three games so far this season at the WBI Tip-Off Classic in Daytona Beach, Fla., all were decided by eight or fewer points and one contest went to overtime. The positive, however, is that Arkansas came away with two victories, including a huge upset of No. 13 Florida State. Senior C’eira Ricketts earned SEC Player of the Week honors and tournament MVP recognition after totaling 46 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists and 11 steals over the course of the weekend.
The Tigers were dominant in a 77-43 victory against Mercer last Friday, scoring the game’s first 12 points and holding the Bears scoreless for the game’s first four minutes. Auburn put up a strong defensive effort and out-rebounded Mercer 48-27. The Tigers, however, haven’t yet developed into the three-point shooting team that Coach Nell Fortner expected in the preseason. Auburn went 0-of-9 from behind the arc in its season opener and made just 8-of-26 attempts in its exhibition game against Georgia College and State University.
If two games are any indication, balance will be the theme for Florida in the 2011-12 campaign. Currently, three players are averaging better than 10 points per game and seven are tallying better than six points per contest. The Gators will need to clean up their game if they look to defeat top-tier teams such as Michigan, which they lost to 69-66 on Friday. Florida is losing the turnover battle this season 35-28 and had 11 turnovers result into 15 points against the Wolverines.
It’s a tough stretch for the No. 13 Bulldogs, playing four games in 10 days to open the season, but Coach Andy Landers said he has scheduled in such a way in order to be able to evaluate his team. Big things could be in store for junior guard Jasmine James as she came close to a triple-double in the team’s resounding win against perennial NCAA participant TCU on Friday. James finished with 14 points, nine assists and eight steals.
The biggest question for the No. 18 Wildcats coming into the season was how they would hope to replace All-American Victoria Dunlap. I’m not sure we’ve seen enough basketball to make that judgment yet, but the answer in the first game was “by committee.” Kentucky placed three players in double-figures, led by sophomore Kastine Evans’ career-high 23, while three players brought down six or more rebounds, including Samantha Drake’s 10. We will know more about the Wildcats after a Dec. 8 showdown with Duke in Rupp Arena.
Would the Tigers respond to first-year head coach Nikki Caldwell’s system? That was what we wanted to see from the opening game this season by LSU. It’s hard to say yet, but what was noticeable in the team’s 64-56 win against Nicholls State is that the Tigers’ underclassmen came to play. Caldwell has emphasized that class doesn’t matter and sophomore Jeanne Kenney (16 points, 5 assists) and freshman Krystal Forthan (8 points, 7 rebounds) proved that to be true. LSU still has some work to do, committing 22 turnovers and attempting 26 fewer shots than the Shockers in the opener.
The Rebels proved they are resilient by coming back from an early 19-7 deficit to rally for a 68-59 victory against North Florida in the team’s season opener. Junior Maggie McFarland’s work during the offseason is evident as the guard, who averaged just 2.9 points per game a year ago, led her team with 11 points, including three treys against the Ospreys. The Rebels are on the road for the first time this season tonight at Lamar.
Last season, Sharon Fanning-Otis’ Bulldogs struggled in part because of their youth, but through their first two games the 2011 campaign, they are benefitting from it. Freshman Martha Alwal was named the SEC Freshman of the Week after the 6-foot-4 rookie notched a double-double with 11 rebounds and a school-record 10 blocks against Jacksonville State. She then followed with a double-double in a win last night vs. five-time defending Atlantic 10 Champion Xavier.
The Gamecocks benefited from a strong front-court presence in their opener, but the fact that they emerged with just a seven-point victory against Alabama A&M leaves some questions out there heading into tonight’s test against rival Clemson. South Carolina made just 3-of-16 from beyond the arc and connected on just 61 percent of its free throws in the opener. Hopefully it was just a few opening night jitters that the Gamecocks worked out between Friday and tonight.
It was a closer-than-the-score-indicated 89-57 win against Pepperdine for the Lady Vols on Sunday afternoon. Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt was displeased with the team’s 22 turnovers heading into tonight’s critical showdown with Miami. Positive signs for the Lady Vols included their strong second-half offensive performance and key contributions from unlikely contributors, like senior Briana Bass.
The Commodores’ guard play has proven critical in their first two games, as Vanderbilt is averaging a league-leading 23.5 assists per game. In total, Jasmine Lister is averaging 18.5 points per game, which ranks fourth in the league, and is third in the conference in assists at 7.0 dishes per game. A possible matchup with Oklahoma in Vanderbilt’s Thanksgiving Tournament would provide much more insight on the Commodores.
What To Watch:
Tonight will be a good one as No. 3 Tennessee takes on No. 7 Miami at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2. For a team that has voiced its aspirations of winning its ninth NCAA Championship this season, this will be the first opportunity for the Lady Vols to prove themselves on a national stage. The matchup comprises the State Farm Tipoff Classic. At the game, they will honor the 2012 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame class that includes former Tennessee player Nikki McCray, Nancy Fahey (coach), Pam McGee (player), Inge Nissen (player), Robin Roberts (contributor) and Dawn Staley (player).
• Auburn will be seeking the 800th win in its program history tonight when it plays host to Belmont at Auburn Arena. The Tigers are 799-361 (.689) all time.
• Tennessee carries a 37-game home winning streak into tonight’s game against No. 7 Miami. It ties the third-longest such streak in program history.
• Kentucky’s game against Jacksonville State this morning will mark the first Terry Hall Memorial Classic. The Wildcats will now begin the tradition of honoring their program’s all-time winningest coach by naming the first home game of each season after her.