clear
Friday April 29th, 2016 11:49PM

SEC set to flex women's hoops muscle this weekend

By The Associated Press
KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE -- 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 weekend.

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 Burdick said.

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 tournaments.

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 conference."

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."
© Copyright 2016 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Bartus, Icemen shuts out Gwinnett
Garrett Bartus pitched a 42 save shutout, as the Evansville IceMen topped the Gwinnett Gladiators on a New year
10:23PM ( 2 years ago )
Gator Bowl Preview Capsule
A rematch of last year's Capital One Bowl, which Georgia won 45-31 in Orlando.
8:52PM ( 2 years ago )
Millsap's 34 leads Hawks past Celtics
Paul Millsap had season highs with 34 points and 15 rebounds as the Hawks rallied from an 18-point deficit for a 92-91 win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday afternoon.
7:44PM ( 2 years ago )
Sports
No. 19 Georgia blows past Illinois
Shacobia Barbee had 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists to lead No. 19 Georgia over Illinois 82-60 on Saturday.
10:42PM ( 2 years ago )
Dogs will face Nebraska without standout DE Moss
Nebraska defensive end Avery Moss returned to his home in Arizona to attend to a personal issue and won't play in the Gator Bowl against No. 23 Georgia next week.
10:16PM ( 2 years ago )
Georgia Southern coach Monken headed for Army
Desperate to snap its long losing streak against its archrival, Army has hired former Navy assistant Jeff Monken as its 37th football coach.
1:04PM ( 2 years ago )
College Sports
Baseball: Red Elephants claw way back in Game 2, clinch series sweep
All season, Gainesville baseball has displayed enough grit, determination and fight to make any coach smile. So why should the playoffs be any different?
9:51AM ( 10 hours from now )
Baseball: Trojans sweep past Carrollton into second round
On Friday, the Trojans enjoyed providing the types of answers they have managed all season, as they swept past Carrollton in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs, winning 5-3 and 10-1 to surge into the Sweet 16 for a fourth straight season...
By AccessWDUN Staff
9:49AM ( 9 hours from now )
Baseball: Wolves survive Whitewater in tough first round sweep
On paper, Buford's Class AAAA first round matchup with Whitewater looked like a huge mismatch...
9:41AM ( 9 hours from now )
Soccer playoffs: Domination the word for area teams, as 22 move into second round
How good has high school soccer become in northeast Georgia? Well, 30 teams qualified for the state playoffs. This week 22 of those teams claimed victories to move on to the second round...
By AccessWDUN Staff
6:20AM ( 6 hours from now )
(VIDEO) Baseball: Red Elephants try to erase memories of 2015 finish, recent adversity as 2016 playoffs begin
Gainesville baseball coach Jeremy Kemp put it very succinctly earlier this week as the Red Elephants prepared to open the Class AAAAA state playoffs on Friday in a doubleheader against Alexander at Ivey-Watson Field...
3:06PM ( 8 hours ago )