The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

December 18, 2013

SEC set to flex women's hoops muscle this weekend

— KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — 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."

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