NCAAW to watch: Mississippi State, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Tennessee face off in race for top SEC tournament seeds

Mississippi State guard Jordan Danberry (24) dribbles the ball against South Carolina guard Tyasha Harris, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

The SEC boasts six ranked teams with No. 1 South Carolina running away with the conference regular season title and the top No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

There’s still two weeks until tournament time and Mississippi State wants to keep pace with the Gamecocks in case they slip up. But there’s also a pack of teams beneath the Bulldogs who are knocking at one of the four first-round byes come SEC tournament time — three if you omit South Carolina.

Those standings will take center stage this weekend. In the Pac-12, UCLA will get its single regular season shot at Oregon. Good luck.

And Oregon State vs. UCLA is the “Big Monday” feature for ESPN2.

No. 3 Oregon (22-2, 11-1) at No. 7 UCLA (21-2, 10-2)

Friday, 11 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Networks

Oregon has had a doozy of a schedule the last month. The Ducks played seven games against ranked opponents, including four in the top 10.

You wouldn’t know it by stats alone, though. Oregon has outscored opponents 834-567 in that stretch that includes two games with a margin of victory about 50. In the seven games against ranked opponents, the Ducks won by an average margin of 20.3 points. The stretch is on the heels of a loss to Arizona State in early January back before the Sun Devils were ranked in the Associated Press poll.

No. 7 UCLA is up next, with No. 8 Stanford (21-3, 10-2) awaiting on Feb. 24 as the final ranked team in the Ducks’ regular season schedule. Those three are in control of the Pac-12 with No. 12 Arizona (19-4, 8-4) a distant fourth. The top four get a bye in the first round.

It’s the first meeting and only meeting in the regular season for the two. Oregon won all three games last year, including an 88-83 overtime victory in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.

A quick look at Lobo’s Look at Her Hoop Stats shows the Bruins trail the Ducks in nearly every statistical category, but it’s a close match-up. They have the second-best steal rate in the nation (5.8) and will be able to keep up on the boards with junior forward Michaela Onyenware. She has six double-doubles this season, four of which have come against teams currently ranked. That includes 29 points and 10 rebounds against Stanford last week.

No. 16 Texas A&M (19-5, 7-4) at No. 25 Tennessee (17-7, 7-4)

Sunday, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Texas A&M and Tennessee are in the mass of five teams fighting for the final two first-round bye spots in the SEC tournament.

The Aggies have went 5-3 without Carter in the lineup. In the two SEC games before her injury the team scored 84 against No. 20 Arkansas and 79 vs. Ole Miss. In the seven games since that game, the team has averaged 64.7 points. Kayla Wells has scored at least 15 points in five of the seven games and N’dea Jones has produced over her average in the interim. She’s averaging a double-double of 11.5 points and 11.1 rebounds.

Carter returned Thursday and scored 18 as the Aggies won easily, 74-53, against Vanderbilt.

Tennessee’s defense will be a problem for this group. The Lady Vols are second in blocks per game (7.5) and block rate (17.2 percent). They’re second in opponent’s free throw percentage (32.2 percent) and their points per scoring attempt (0.790). On the glass, they rank second in total rebounds (47.1, boosted by a nation-best 32.1 on the defensive side) and keep opponents to a 42.9 percent rebounding rate, sixth in the nation. (All stats via Her Hoop Stats)

Tennessee junior guard Rennia Davis was named to the Naismith Trophy women’s basketball player of the year list. She averages 18.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and shoots 32.1 percent from 3-point range, all team highs.

No. 6 Mississippi State (22-3, 10-1) at No. 18 Kentucky (18-5, 7-4)

Sunday, 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Mississippi State had a three-win week with two over ranked opponents. One featured a comeback against Texas A&M, which had built a late 12-point lead and seemed in control even with Carter on the bench due to injury. The Bulldogs outscored their opponent 26-8 in the fourth quarter to get out with a win.

Rickea Jackson and Jessika Carter continue to lead the Bulldogs with 14.2 and 3.3 points per game, respectively. The team averages a 10th-best 80 points per game.

Now they’ll face a Kentucky team that was trounced by now 23rd ranked Arkansas, 103-85, despite the return of Rhyne Howard. It snapped a 10-game losing skid for Arkansas against the Wildcats.

Howard missed three games with a broken finger, making an earlier-than-expected return. Though she’s playing with a splint and tape on the finger, she had 20 points on 7-for-21 shooting with three rebounds. She averages 23.1 points per game, second in the nation.

“It was a big adjustment for her to come back, she really worked hard,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said, via the Kentucky Herald-Leader. “I thought she got frustrated early with how physical the game was. We’ve just got to figure out a way to play through that … She’s out there giving it everything she has so it’s great to have her but I think there will be an adjustment period there.”

It’s the third consecutive top-25 ranked opponent for Mississippi State. They’re in firm control of the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, behind South Carolina, but after that it’s a jumbled mess with five teams at six or seven wins.

No. 11 Oregon State (19-5, 7-5) at No. 7 UCLA

Monday, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Oregon State has come down a bit from its No. 4 ranking, the highest in program history. But their losses aren’t terrible, with one each to Stanford, Arizona and Arizona State and both against Oregon. And they’ve been dealing with life issues off the court, as Andy Cripe detailed for Mid-Valley Media. Two well-known fans and supporters died this season and the team made it to both memorials, per Cripe.

On the court, the Beavers are now without freshman standout Kennedy Brown. Brown tore the ACL in her left knee during Friday’s win over Arizona State. She had started every game and was averaging 6.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in 27.7 minutes per game. In the last five games, she pulled down 50 rebounds and will finish her initial season fourth on the program’s freshman block list with 33.

Oregon State defeated UCLA twice last season by a combined 18 points.

The Beavers’ Mikayla Pivec and Destiny Slocum and UCLA’s Michaela Onyenwere were named to the Naismith Trophy women’s basketball player of the year midseason list this week.

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