And, then, there were two: The No. 1 Mississippi State Bulldogs and the No. 10 Arkansas Razorbacks are set to tip off for the SEC Tournament title.
How the Bulldogs advanced
The top-ranked Bulldogs advanced to the SEC Tournament championship game with a 71-56 rout of No. 5 Missouri. Senior guard Sophie Cunningham showed up and showed out for the Tigers, becoming the all-time leading scorer in Mizzou program history in the opening minutes of the contest. But her 38 points, which included 21 points scored from three-point range, were not enough on a night when Amber Smith and Cierra Porter were limited to three points apiece. Without some help from her friends, Cunningham was unable to get past Mississippi State a second time.
As has been the case all season, the Bulldogs’ dogged defense squeezed the breath out of the Tigers’ offense in stretches, forcing them into bad shots and shot-clock violations. SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Teaira McCowan came up big for the Bulldogs with 27 points and 16 rebounds. But graduate student forward Anriel Howard led the way, scoring 12 of the Bulldogs’ 16 first-quarter points to finish with a 19-point and 10-rebound double-double of her own.
How the Razorbacks advanced
At No. 10 in the SEC, the Arkansas Razorbacks were considered underdogs against the No. 3 Texas A&M Aggies. With a 6-10 record in conference play, the Razorbacks have not been considered much of a threat. But they started on strong, confident footing in the SEC Tournament, taking down Georgia in the second round by 10 points, No. 2 South Carolina in a 95-89 upset in the quarterfinals and, last night, the Aggies, 58-51.
True champions never take their opponents for granted, and Arkansas didn’t rest on its laurels against the Chennedy Carter-less Aggies. Carter was ruled out after breaking a pinky that required surgery. Texas A&M fought without her, leading the way for most of the game. But the Razorbacks never gave up on themselves, or each other. With 3:03 left in the game, the Razorbacks tied it up on free throws, 51-51. Arkansas would score seven more points to wrap things up.
High hopes vs. great expectations
Given that Mississippi State has dropped just two games all season, an upset for Arkansas seems like a long shot. But, as the Razorbacks have demonstrated so far in this tournament, anything can happen in competition — and if any team can muster the will and the passion to pull off what some would consider impossible, it might as well be the Razorbacks.
Here’s how to watch:
SEC Tournament Final
No. 1 Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. No. 10 Arkansas Razorbacks
When: Sunday, March 10, at 2 p.m. ET
Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, SC
How to watch: ESPN2