Old cliché applies to conference play
By Seth Traub, Special to CNNSI.com
One game at a time.
That's the kind of mumbo-jumbo a lot of coaches tell their players to keep them focused, and to the upset-hungry media to keep them at bay. But in the SEC, it really does apply. After all, what else can explain No. 14 Florida's big loss to Colorado State or No. 20 Auburn's upset to Illinois at home.
The key to successful SEC play is for teams to not look too far ahead, focusing on the game at hand.
Looking past any team will be a mistake as every team, from top to bottom, can contend with each other on any given night.
Florida coach Carol Ross knows what overlooking a team can do; she has lost to Kentucky two straight years in the Gators' own gym. The Wildcats are a combined 12-16 combined over the last two years in the SEC and were picked to finish 11th by the media this preseason. UF travels to Lexington on Sunday to play its second of three road games.
"Everyone in the conference is capable of winning on any given night, especially in their own gym," Ross said. "We know we are going to face a tough Kentucky team, and I don't think I will have any trouble getting the attention of the players to get ready for this game."
No. 11 Louisiana State coach Sue Gunter believes the way to be successful in the conference is to ignore what has come before and what will come after.
"The only way to survive in this conference is to focus on the next opponent, and only the next opponent," Gunter said. "If you look back or ahead you're not going to make it."
Especially for the Tennessee Lady Volunteers who have won 27 straight SEC home games, and 30 of 33 games overall. They have a target on their back and even a team as talented and deep as the Vols can be beaten, so they can't afford to look past January and February.
Gunter positive in wake of loss
Louisiana State didn't get the luck of the draw as the Tigers opened play in Knoxville against No. 2 Tennessee in the Lady Vols' first home game since Dec. 15. Riding a seven-game winning streak the Tigers couldn't stay with the Vols, losing by 19, despite keeping the game relatively close until the final minutes.
Despite the loss, Gunter isn't disappointed in her team's play.
"We did what we wanted to, we executed our offense well and we did a good job of handling our defense in the first half," Gunter said. "They just have very good balance. We were in the game until late when they made a run and we didn't have anything left."
Play off the bench was key in this game for the Vols.
Tennessee reserves scored 37 while Tiger reserves were scoreless in 43 minutes.
LSU will play one more road game before heading home, against No. 17 Mississippi State on Sunday.
"Someone has to win this game, and it will be very important for both teams not to get into an 0-2 SEC hole," Gunter said. "It will be another up-tempo game and we are going to need some consistency and production off the bench."
Hills completes transition
In what began more than a year ago, Florida sophomore Sherisha Hills completed her transition this week from the Big East to the SEC as she made her conference debut in the Gators' 12-point win over Mississippi State.
A transfer from Notre Dame, Hills said she was warned of the rough-and-tumble SEC inside play and she got a dose of it in her first conference game.
"Physically it is a lot rougher. I played down low against MSU and there was a lot of pushing and banging going on," Hills said. "I know people always say the SEC is tough and people always say, 'You are going to get banged up,' and, well, it's true."
Hills has stepped up her play since starting in the place of an injured Tombi Bell during the Gators' holiday tournament. With the return of Bell to the starting line-up, Hills returns to the bench but will be a key reserve come the SEC tournament.
Freshman Vanessa Hayden saw her first SEC action and opened league play with her fourth double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Ross said Hayden began the game a little wide-eyed, in awe of SEC play but Hayden calmed down in the second half and was able to find a groove.
Player of the Week
With a career performance against UCLA, Georgia senior guard Kelly Miller earned SEC player-of-the-week honors. Miller grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds -- five more than her previous high -- and scored 19 in the Bulldogs' win.
Her rebound tally is believed to be the most ever by a Lady Bulldog guard in a single game. Her performance this week moved her into the No. 4 position on the Georgia career scoring list (1,856) and 10th in career rebounds (601).
Miller is the only player in Georgia history ranked among the Top-10 career leaders in points, rebounds, assists and steals. She is No. 3 in assists (534) and No. 5 in steals (257).
Seth Traub is a reporter for the Independent Florida Alligator, the student paper that serves the University of Florida.