IOWA CITY, Iowa — The good news for Georgia coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson is one of the schools she played at won.
The bad news for the former Georgia and Iowa player is it wasn’t the team she was coaching.
Second-seeded Iowa outlasted 10th-seeded Georgia 74-66 on Sunday, ending the Bulldogs’ postseason run in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season.
The Bulldogs were competitive for much of the game, trailing by only two points at the end of the first quarter and one at halftime. They led as late as the third quarter, and they had opportunities to tie or take the lead late in the fourth quarter.
“We feel like we had a good chance, a good fight,” forward Javyn Nicholson said. “This is March Madness, though.”
Turnovers from Alisha Lewis, Diamond Battles and Audrey Warren on three consecutive possessions in the final two minutes were too much to recover from, though. Battles also missed a shot that could have cut Iowa’s lead to one possession with 19 seconds left.
“We had an opportunity, and we didn’t capitalize on it,” Nicholson said. “That’s how things go.”
Iowa star Caitlin Clark, meanwhile, scored the Hawkeyes’ final six points to expand her team’s lead to eight – the largest it had been in the second half.
Abrahamson-Henderson believes the final two minutes are “not anything indicative of the game,” though.
“Our team … did an amazing job and played great defense, played suffocating defense,” Abrahamson-Henderson said.
Georgia’s zone defense helped the Bulldogs hang with the heavily favored Hawkeyes.
“We just knew that we had to pressure the ball and disrupt their sets,” Battles said.
Georgia forced 17 turnovers, which translated to 21 points on the other end.
“They live on turnovers,” Clark said. “That’s what they wanted to do. But no matter when we had a turnover, we never hung our head. We never felt defeated for ourselves.”
Clark, the Big Ten Player of the Year, shot 6-for-17 and finished with 22 points. Four of those points were via Georgia intentional fouls in the final seconds.
Iowa’s offense had only two second-chance points and no bench points. Georgia had a 42-29 rebounding advantage.
Abrahamson-Henderson declined to disclose the team’s goal for limiting scoring but said the Bulldogs “had them right there.” Sunday’s 74 points were the fifth fewest for Iowa in a win this season.
The UGA defense was not quite enough to upset Iowa, a 13-point favorite, especially with an inconsistent offensive showing. Georgia did not make any field goals in the last two minutes and had four turnovers in the final four minutes.
“Our defense was pretty good, too,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
Battles had 16 points in the first half, but then her offensive opportunities dwindled in the second half. She finished with 21 points on 7-for-15 shooting.
“They made it harder for me to score on-balls and everything else,” Battles said.
Even after the quieter second half, Abrahamson-Henderson thought Battles was “the best player on the floor” Sunday.
“She was the reason why we were doing what we were doing,” Abrahamson-Henderson said.
Nicholson and fellow forward Brittney Smith each had 12 points. Forward Jordan Isaacs had six points and 10 rebounds.
The Bulldogs had to weather a hostile environment. Carver-Hawkeye Arena had a sellout crowd of 14,382, the majority of which were Iowa fans. It was the largest attendance of any of the 16 first-weekend tournament sites.
Georgia’s first season under Abrahamson-Henderson’s leadership ended with a 22-12 record.
“The Georgia brand is there,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “I’m just really, really proud of them to do this this year with 15 brand-new players and our coaching staff. That’s why I keep saying that Georgia is here today.”
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com