Surprising first week of action shakes up SEC race

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 8, 2014 at 8:52 pm •  Published: January 8, 2014

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A surprising first week of competition in Southeastern Conference women's basketball has left the league with no obvious front-runner.

Tennessee and Kentucky, who have combined to win the conference's last four regular-season titles, lost their SEC home openers. Tennessee, the defending league champion, fell 80-77 to LSU on Thursday to end a string of 16 straight victories in conference openers. Kentucky lost 83-73 to Florida on Sunday to fall at home to an unranked foe for the first time since Jan. 9, 2011.

Those surprising early-season results suggest the SEC could have a much more wide open race than usual this season.

"Coaches were telling us it's a long year, it's a long basketball season," Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale said. "It's anybody's game in the SEC."

That hasn't always been the case.

Since the 1985-86 season, only once has the SEC's regular-season champion lost more than two conference games. That happened in 2012, when Kentucky won with a 13-3 league record. During that stretch, only six schools - Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Mississippi - have captured regular-season titles.

But there's a sense the conference may be deeper this year. Florida coach Amanda Butler cites Mississippi's 87-80 nonconference loss at No. 7 Baylor last month as evidence. SEC media and coaches picked Mississippi to finish 13th out of 14 teams in the league this season, yet the Rebels led Baylor by 10 in the first half and only trailed by one point in the final three minutes.

"I think that's why our league is the best in the country," Butler said. "It's not because of the teams that are ranked in the top 10 or that sort of thing. Go all the way through, to all our league sisters. Anybody is capable."

The SEC has no teams ranked sixth or better, but it has four schools in the top 12: No. 8 Tennessee, No. 9 Kentucky, No. 10 South Carolina and No. 12 LSU.

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