Lady Bulldogs exit quickly in SEC tournament

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Thirty-nine seconds had elapsed and Georgia already had two offensive possessions against Alabama in the SEC Women’s Touranament. Each trip down the floor resulted in a 3-point make.

From then on, not much could go Georgia’s way.

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Alabama jumped all over Georgia throughout the first half of play in their tournament opener. It was much like the Jan. 9 regular-season matchup when Alabama took a significant early lead only to lose. This time, however, Georgia’s comeback lightning didn’t strike twice. It was quite the opposite as Georgia’s largest lead came after those two opening baskets, then Alabama had every bit of control..

Despite a third-quarter rally where Georgia sawed into the deficit, Georgia didn’t have enough to overcome an overpowering dose of Alabama’s 3-point shooting. The Lady Bulldogs bowed out with a 74-62 loss where it trailed by as many as 20 points.

“Alabama was super comfortable,” sixth-year senior center Jenna Staiti said. “They’re a great team. If they’re comfortable it’s hard to defend.”

Georgia returns to Athens for a week of practice and preparation before learning its NCAA tournament fate during the March 13 selection show. ESPN’s Charlie Creme had Georgia pegged as a No. 6 seed in his latest projection.

“Obviously a very, very disappointing loss,” Georgia head coach Joni Taylor said. “I thought that Alabama came out and punched first. We never responded. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and get a lot of things figured out.”

Georgia’s early lead was a brief glimpse of how it had rebounded after a Feb. 20 loss at Auburn. Taylor, Staiti and sophomore guard Sarah Ashlee Barker agreed that the team had found its stride, and Georgia’s head coach said her team was “back to normal,” in reference to returning to the level of play that topped Notre Dame and powerhouse NC State earlier in the season.

The issues that plagued Georgia throughout a majority of SEC games that it let slip away had quickly returned. The turnovers piled up. A lack of consistent makes resulted in transition defense that allowed Alabama to find its groove offensively, especially from beyond the arc.

Twelve of Georgia’s 18 turnovers came in the first half, and Alabama hit five 3-pointers. Brittany Davis paced Alabama with 26 points, and 16 of those came prior to the intermission. Once more, it became too much for Alabama to overcome.

Entering the halftime locker room, Alabama head coach Kristy Curry said the message was “not again,” and the Crimson Tide avoided a collapse.

“I thought we did a really good job of adjusting some things at halftime with our transition defense,” Curry said. “We limited them at the rim, making them play off two feet.”

Georgia’s veteran leadership allowed it to make a third-quarter push. Que Morrison led the Lady Bulldogs with 18 points, and the defensive-minded guard made plays to cut the deficit to nine. Javyn Nicholson, who didn’t play in the first half, had a strong contribution with six points and nine rebounds. Freshman Tineya Hylton even gave Georgia some life with a banked-in 3-point shot.

Each time Georgia made a push, Alabama had an answer. The Lady Bulldogs had a size advantage and began to do their work in the post, but Alabama responded with a handful of crucial shots.

“We know teams are going to zone us. It’s not a surprise,” Taylor said. “It should not be a shock, and we have to be more disciplined in making them guard us and attacking and not settling for jumpers all night.”

All hope is not lost for Georgia. On a day where all of the higher seeds advanced prior to the nightcap, Thursday night’s upset didn’t derail the Lady Bulldogs’ postseason dreams. Georgia should lock up an NCAA tournament berth with its strong non-conference slate get another opportunity to rally in the tournament that matters most.

It could happen in a similar fashion as it did when Georgia lost at Auburn. During a film session, the Lady Bulldogs had a team meeting to realize what they still have ahead of them. They’ll have another opportunity to realize potential, and find ways to produce offensively — especially in a half-court set.

The third-quarter surge, after all, showed what Georgia can do. Now, it will need to do so for 40 minutes of play or the season will come to a not-so-glamorous end.

“We need to go back to the drawing board,” Staiti said. We’re playing one game -- no next game is guaranteed, so we have to figure it out.”

By the end of play Thursday night, Alabama finished in a similar way to how Georgia started it. The Crimson Tide went on a final run. JaMya Mingo-Young strutted down the court with arms flying through the air. Davis celebrated a win with her young daughter.

Alabama spoiled the party. Georgia’s trip to the Music City went the opposite of how it expected.

“We started out from the tip and just picked each other up and kept going,” Davis said. “Even when it got tough, we kept going.”