Lady Bulldogs use strong second half to dispatch Drexel

Credit: Ronald Cortes

Credit: Ronald Cortes

SAN ANTONIO — Twenty-six games passed and Georgia had the same starting five in each contest. The 27th meeting for the Lady Bulldogs, and there were new players hearing their names called before the opening tip.

Mikayla Coombs and Malury Bates got the nod in place of Gabby Connally (ankle) and Jenna Staiti (undisclosed, arrived late) for the first time this season. On top of the switch, Georgia hadn’t taken the floor since March 7 in the conference tournament.

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The adversities, mainly the long layoff, resulted in some rust for Georgia. It made only three shots in the first quarter, committed eight turnovers and allowed Drexel to build an early 9-point lead. The Lady Bulldogs looked out-of-sync and needed time to find offensive flow.

“The first quarter was very hectic,” Coombs said. “I think it was the fact that we haven’t gotten into a game in a while. We were trying to get back into ourselves.”

Once Georgia snagged the opening tip, it had to rely on its depth and the changes and distractions ahead of Monday didn’t matter. It became a vintage Lady Bulldogs’ basketball game, at least following the pattern of games this season. Georgia looked sloppy to start, then it turned into second-half dominance after leaning on its Waffle House defense (scattered, smothered and covered) and eventually going on an offensive run.

Eventually, Georgia pulled away to beat 14th-seeded Drexel, 67-53. It marks the second NCAA Tournament win under coach Joni Taylor, and the first since beating Mercer at Stegeman Coliseum in 2018.

Credit: Ronald Cortes

Credit: Ronald Cortes

“Every game is going to be a dogfight,” Taylor said in a Zoom press conference from Bill Greehey Arena. “I’m proud of our girls and what they’ve been able to do since getting to San Antonio. They’ve put their head down.”

Early on, Georgia admittedly had some nerves. It went for the difficult passes instead of taking a simple pass-and-catch approach that Taylor preaches. The offense found itself in a rut, with the spark coming from a surprising source in junior guard Caitlin Hose. She hit two 3-pointers after not playing since Feb. 11.

The fortunes slowly shifted in Georgia’s favor at the end of the second quarter. Senior guard Que Morrison hit a jumper at the buzzer after the Lady Bulldogs started to dictate pace and score off of a flurry of Drexel turnovers. Georgia tied the game at the intermission’s horn, and it led to the opportunity to separate itself from the CAA conference champions.

“We didn’t ever panic. We didn’t ever get tight,” Taylor said. “We knew we were going to find it.”

The second half came, and Georgia looked like the team that dominated its way to an SEC title game appearance. It started with holding Drexel to 26 percent from the field. The Dragons had a motion offense that features five scorers, and Georgia finally got accustomed to the challenge it presented.

Credit: Ronald Cortes

Credit: Ronald Cortes

Georgia’s offense came in bunches when it came. Staiti scored all of her 19 points in the second half. Chapman hit a handful of jumpers. Coombs ran in transition and wreaked havoc as the Lady Bulldogs dictated pace. Georgia shot 44% in the second half and earned 15 free-throw attempts.

“Once we settled down, we came into ourselves,” Coombs said. “We got back into our style of play.”

By the end, Staiti and Morrison continued to make the Lady Bulldogs tick. The 6-foot-4 center couldn’t miss, and the spark plug of a guard neared a triple double with 11 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. They combined for 44% of Georgia’s points.

Nothing, including the final result, changed for Georgia.

“It’s what they do. It’s their last dance,” Taylor said. “They’re going to do everything in their power to make sure we’re successful.”

Georgia will face No. 6 Oregon Wednesday in the second round. The 3 p.m. matchup from the Alamodome will air on ESPN2.

Drexel finished its season with a record of 15-9.