Lady Dogs hold off Alabama

Georgia got a team-high 18 points from Ashley Houts and some key free throws down the stretch from a host of players to edge 11th-seeded Alabama in the first round of the SEC Tournament on Thursday at Gwinnett Arena, 73-66.

The last time Alabama had met Georgia, the Lady Bulldogs dominated the Tide in a 76-47 win in Athens on Valentine's Day. It wasn't clear entering the game if there would be any carry-over, but Alabama played as if it had a short memory.

When the Lady Dogs (23-7) needed a play to secure a win, they turned to their senior leader. After a back-and-forth second half, Houts' steal and two free throws with 1:30 left finally gave Georgia, the No. 6 seed, the cushion it needed to hold off an Alabama team that never gave in.

One of the Lady Dogs' strengths was their performance at the free-throw line. In the second half, Georgia was 20-of-23 there, and the Lady Dogs needed nearly every one of those points to move on to the second round.

Georgia appeared to be taking control during the first six minutes of the second half, using a mixture of fast-break points, easy looks inside and free throws to extend its lead to 44-35.

But from there, Alabama began to slowly chip away and got one final burst to tie the score at 50, just past the 10-minute mark. The biggest catalyst for the Tide was Ericka Russell, who made a 3-pointer to cut Georgia's lead to 50-48 and then followed with a drive and a layup that tied the score.

A couple of minutes later, Alabama took its first lead since the score was 24-23 when Dedrea Magee made a runner on a fast break following a Georgia turnover to put the Tide in front 54-52 with 7:18 remaining.

The two teams traded baskets for a few minutes, with several ties and two-point Alabama leads. Neither team could pull away from the other, but Russell did her best for Alabama. The sophomore scored a career-high 30 points, including six 3's to keep the Tide close throughout the second half.

Georgia finally regained the lead with fewer than three minutes left, when Jasmine James drove for a layup following an Alabama turnover, giving the Lady Dogs a 65-53 lead.

Georgia got off to a very slow start, falling behind 9-2 and failing to make a field goal for nearly the first five minutes of the game.

But then the Lady Bulldogs got hot, going on a 19-2 run that turned the seven-point deficit into a 21-11 lead.

They couldn't keep up that pace, though, as the Crimson Tide answered Georgia's burst with an 8-0 run of their own, and the game was close the rest of the half, in which the teams traded leads five times. Georgia finished the half leading 29-26.

Hurting Georgia the most in the first half was Russell, who scored 13 points and made 3 of 5 three-point attempts. The sophomore averaged only 10.7 points per game, but bettered that mark in 20 minutes of play against the Lady Dogs.

The Lady Dogs play No. 3-seed Mississippi State at 9 p.m. Friday night in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. The winner will take on the winner of the Kentucky-Auburn game at 6 p.m. Saturday.