Jillian Hollingshead healthy, could return for Georgia to open NCAA Tournament

Jillian Hollingshead will be back in uniform against the Flyers and moving forward for the sixth-seeded Lady Bulldogs, who hope to make a postseason run and advance out of the opening rounds in Ames. (Photo by Mackenzie Miles)

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Jillian Hollingshead will be back in uniform against the Flyers and moving forward for the sixth-seeded Lady Bulldogs, who hope to make a postseason run and advance out of the opening rounds in Ames. (Photo by Mackenzie Miles)

AMES, Iowa — There are times when Jillian Hollingshead sports a pair of glasses when sitting on the Georgia bench. She’s in warm-up attire on those occasions, though, so it’s a good sign for the Lady Bulldogs when the freshman can shed the specs.

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Ahead of Georgia’s NCAA Tournament opener Friday against Dayton (7:30 p.m., ESPNews), Hollingshead won’t need the glasses for vision or fashion. She will be back in uniform against the Flyers and moving forward for the sixth-seeded Lady Bulldogs, who hope to make a postseason run and advance out of the opening rounds in Ames.

“I’m excited about the progress she has been able to make in the past couple of weeks and string together a few practices,” Georgia coach Joni Taylor said in a Thursday news conference. “We hope to get her on the floor at some point.”

The freshman has faced numerous bouts of adversity through her four-month stretch in a Georgia uniform. She kicked off her season by producing in bunches. Taylor saw potential for Hollingshead to become a star. Georgia gave her numerous challenges because it wanted Hollingshead to have an immediate impact. Hollingshead played 27 minutes and scored nine points in the Lady Bulldogs’ signature win over N.C. State, after all, and notched a career-high 12 points against South Alabama.

Once SEC play came around, Hollingshead played early on and seemingly the success would continue. She earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors consecutively, but then it all got derailed. Hollingshead missed numerous weeks, beginning with the Jan. 17 game at Missouri, with an illness that SEC Network announcers later reported as mononucleosis.

“I'm excited about the progress she has been able to make in the past couple of weeks and string together a few practices. We hope to get her on the floor at some point."

- Georgia coach Joni Taylor, on freshman Jillian Hollingshead

Shortly after getting well, a knee bug that has been pesky for Hollingshead all season returned. It caused her to miss an early-season game against North Florida, but the ailment caused more problems during league play. Nothing specific happened to Hollingshead, Taylor said, but she faced increased knee swelling. It made it difficult to play and forced her to sit and observe for a series of games.

“Jillian has been a day-by-day with what she’s had to deal with,” sophomore guard Sarah Ashlee Barker said before the SEC Tournament. “... She was contributing to us greatly earlier in the season and putting up numbers. She’s the type of person who comes into practice with a smile every day and does what she’s asked.

“We keep telling her, ‘Your time is coming. You’re good. We’re going to get your knee fixed.’”

Hollingshead has been back in uniform for the past few games, but Georgia had to implement a four-guard lineup through stretches of conference play, and the 6-foot-5 frame of Hollingshead didn’t match well against quicker lineups.

Hollingshead has been available since the Feb. 27 game against Texas A&M to close the regular season. She hasn’t appeared in a game since Feb. 13 against South Carolina.

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“I’m excited,” Taylor said. “There’s an opportunity to play three guards and two posts. Our last couple of games, even though she has been healthy, we’ve had to run a four-guard lineup. We’ll have an opportunity to get her in, hopefully, tomorrow. She’s been able to practice as of late, has to get a rhythm going and is obviously somebody who has helped us.”

Hollingshead, through her absences, has been a team cheerleader on the bench. That’s not the role she has desired and has voiced frustration with Barker. She told her sophomore teammate that she “feels bad” that she can’t produce more.

Hollingshead had plans to continue in the groove that helped Georgia win several significant games. Taylor, however, has put Hollingshead’s health as the utmost priority. The sessions with athletic trainer Stacey Kisil have been aplenty. The team allowed Hollingshead to practice when she could, but now she’s become more of a full participant, according to Taylor, through the chronic issue.

“She’s pushing through every day,” Barker said. “She might be in pain. That’s what you have to do sometimes. She loves basketball and wants to be out there with us.”

Hollingshead quickly became a team favorite. She played late in the win over Texas Tech with some difference-making plays. A lot of her production against N.C. State came in the fourth quarter and overtime. She also played a major factor in Georgia’s victory against Notre Dame.

Georgia never liked to see the glasses while the McDonald’s All-American sat on the bench. They’re coming off as Hollingshead returns to the court.

“Jill, I can feel for her. It’s heartbreaking because I know how hard she wants to go,” said senior guard Que Morrison, who missed plenty of time earlier in her career with foot and shoulder injuries. “She started off great, and I feel like she’s still doing great. She’s a bit tough on herself, but she’s still going at it.”