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This week in the SEC: Tennessee snapped a six-game losing streak amid intense outside pressure

Lady Volunteers head coach Holly Warlick has been under fire for not living up to the legacy that Pat Summitt built. Plus, Mississippi State’s and Texas A&M’s upward movement in the AP Poll, our pick for the SEC game of the week, and more!

Auburn guard Robyn Benton earned Freshman of the Week honors after making a 12-foot jumper at the buzzer in the Tigers’ win over Vanderbilt on Jan. 17, 2019.
Courtesy of Auburn Women’s Basketball via Twitter

After another week of SEC conference play, a few teams have become unglued to their spots in the AP Poll and moved up, while another team that fell from the top 25 amidst a six-game losing streak snapped the slide.

Here are the week’s biggest stories:

Lady Vols snap six-game losing skid

The Tennessee Lady Volunteers snapped a six-game losing streak with a 74-65 win over LSU on Sunday, Jan. 27. It was Tennessee’s first win since Jan. 3 and only their second in January, to put the Lady Vols at 2-5 in SEC play.

People say confidence breeds success, and maybe that’s what helped the Lady Vols stop the bleeding.

Embattled Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick never lost faith in her players, and continued to see promise, even in loss.

Following the Lady Vols’ 77-62 loss to No. 1 Notre Dame on Thursday, Jan. 24, Warlick said:

I’m disappointed obviously in the outcome, but I will tell you this: Our kids didn’t have anything left in their tank. They fought and played hard. That’s a great step for us and a good process for this team.

Warlick was right, as just two days later the Lady Vols got a win.

But this team will have to do much more winning before Warlick is out of the hot seat in the minds of some — no longer considered the coach took “the Taj Mahal that the late Pat Summitt built and turned it into just another two-story home.”

Whether Warlick is right for the job is up to Tennessee’s athletic department. But such comparisons between the Warlick-era Lady Vols and the legacy that Summitt built are a bit unfair — not only to Warlick, but to the players as well — because they hinder the team’s ability to find their own way.

The expectation that Warlick can guide the team to Summitt-level winning overnight is as unrealistic as believing rebuilding is not a process that takes time — sometimes with slow progress. That Tennessee got an important, badly-needed win while under such intense scrutiny, however, will help the players to trust their abilities — both on the court (in terms of X’s and O’s) and off the court (in terms of blocking out the noise to do the job at hand).

Next up

The Lady Vols play the Florida Gators, who are last in the SEC standings, on Thursday, Jan. 31 (7:00 p.m. ET on SEC Network Plus).

No. 6 Mississippi State Bulldogs — finally unglued

... from their long-held spot at No. 7 in the AP top-25 poll, that is.

The Bulldogs managed to climb one point after spending most of the season at No. 7. They got it down with an 80-49 demolition of the Ole Miss Rebels on Sunday, Jan. 27. In the win, Teaira McCowan, who is averaging 16.5 and 13.5 rebounds per game, stayed on message against the Rebels with a game-high 33 points and 13 rebounds.

To make it a team effort, three other Mississippi State players scored in double figures — Anriel Howard (16 points), Jordan Danberry (12 points) and Andra Espinoza-Hunter (10 points) — with Howard also grabbing 12 rebounds, for another Bulldogs’ double-double.

Where Mississippi State demoralizes players is on defense, though, and the Bulldogs were relentless against the Rebels.

By the numbers (how Mississippi State silenced Ole Miss):

15 — highest points allowed of any Rebels’ player (Crystal Allen)

43 — rebounds by the Bulldogs’ (to the Rebels’ 27)

20 — Rebels’ turnovers (to the Bulldogs’ 10)

Ole Miss outperformed Mississippi State from three-point range, however, with the Rebels making seven of their 14 three-point attempts while the Bulldogs went 5-of-15 from long distance. Perimeter shooting has been the biggest weakness for the Bulldogs all season, to the point that it is now almost part of their identity — the way that commanding post play and dominant defense are parts of their identity. But if the Bulldogs can somehow get something going from beyond the arc, they will unstoppable. Even without a perimeter game, however, Mississippi State can still contend with anyone.

Next up

Mississippi State takes on LSU on Thursday, Jan. 31, at 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network Plus). Also on Thursday, Ole Miss faces Auburn at 8:00 p.m. ET (SEC Network Plus).

Aggies on the rise

The No. 20 Texas A&M Aggies spent some time outside of the AP top-25 poll following a defeat by intra-conference rival LSU. After a few weeks out of the poll, once the Aggies got back in last week (at No. 24), they did everything within reason to stay. Not only did they climb close to their previous No. 21 position, they bested it by one spot courtesy of a two-point win over then-No. 15 Kentucky Wildcats on Sunday, Jan. 27. The game was ultimately close, but the difference came down to field goal percentage, with the Aggies shooting 25-of-48 to the Wildcats’ 25-of-63.

Next up

Texas A&M takes on the Vanderbilt Commodores on Thursday, Jan. 31, at 8:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network). The game should be a cakewalk for the Aggies, as Vandy has remained at the bottom of the SEC pack this season, now at 6-14 overall and 1-6 in SEC competition.

After losing to the Aggies, the Kentucky Wildcats slid to No. 19 in the AP top-25 poll but can redeem themselves with a win over No. 16 South Carolina in this week’s SEC game of the week (see below).

SEC game of the week

No. 16 South Carolina Gamecocks (14-5, 6-1 SEC) at No. 19 Kentucky Wildcats (17-4, 4-3 SEC)

Following early-season struggles, the Gamecocks have come into their own in SEC competition during which they’ve dropped just one game (to Mississippi State, on Jan. 17) and defeated two ranked teams (Texas A&M on Jan. 3 and Missouri on Jan. 21).

Kentucky, meanwhile, has lost to an unranked team (Ole Miss on Jan. 13) but also has defeated two AP top-25 teams: Tennessee (Jan. 13) and Missouri (Jan. 24).

All of this boils down to the Wildcats being wildly unpredictable right now, while still possessing the ability to beat any team in the conference (except Mississippi State, perhaps) — with the unpredictability coming down to whether all of the pieces can come together at the right time to make wins happen.

For the Wildcats to get the win against South Carolina, a third scorer will need to emerge to put up double-figure scoring behind freshman guard Rhyne Howard and senior guard Maci Morris.

For the Gamecocks to walk away victorious, they will need to limit turnovers and rebound the ball to have a chance against a Wildcats’ team that is allowing just 57 points per game.

Game information

When: Thursday, Jan. 31, at 6:30 p.m. ET

Where: Memorial Coliseum, Lexington, KY

How to tune in: SEC Network

To check out which other SEC teams are in action this week, check out the complete schedule.

Elsewhere in the SEC:

  • SEC Player of the Week is Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan, who is no stranger to this award. She earned the honors with her dominant 33-point, 13-rebound double-double performance against Ole Miss on Sunday, Jan. 27.
  • SEC Freshman of the Week is Auburn’s Robyn Benton, who got the Tigers a win over Vanderbilt with a 12-foot jumper with just 8.6 seconds left in the game.
  • South Carolina’s Tyasha Harris moved into eighth place in all-time assists in Gamecocks program history.
  • Vanderbilt may be struggling as a team, but Commodore Cierra Walker banked eight three-pointers against Auburn last week. Her eight threes tie the school’s record, which was set in 2012.