Jan. 31, 2014
ATHENS, Ga.----The cardiac Lady Bulldogs of 2014 used a performance brimming with grit and determination to top the 13th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats 58-56 in a game that went late into the night Thursday in Athens.
Georgia moves to 16-6 on the season and 3-5 in SEC play while the Wildcats fall to 16-5 and 4-4 in conference.
Leading the Lady Bulldogs in the scoring column was Merritt Hempe with 15 points. She also collected her first career double-double with a career-high 11 rebounds. Khaalidah Miller, who battled through intense cramps the entire second half, notched 11 points while Krista Donald added 10 points. Shacobia Barbee also grabbed double digit boards as she pulled down 10 rebounds to go along with nine points and game-highs of six assists and four steals.
The game came down to a dramatic last couple of minutes as Kentucky trimmed a nine-point Georgia lead at the 4:53 mark to just a single point with 25 seconds left. A missed Jennifer O'Neill free-throw followed by a Marjorie Butler make set up the tense final seconds that saw an O'Neill 3-point attempt at the buzzer hit the rim and bounce out to give Georgia the win.
"It was impressive. I thought that our team played extremely hard, moreover, they played hard and they played well. They were on point defensively and the top of the zone was just terrific, at times amazing," Georgia head coach Andy Landers said. "They did not break down very often and then the back of the zone just kicked in and played with them and did what they needed to do so defensively we were effective."
Georgia came out in the second half trailing 24-23 but immediately set about trying to claw itself into the lead. Even as a Hempe jumper was able to lift the Lady Bulldogs over the Wildcats, Kentucky came right back down the court to reestablish their lead.
Missed shots continued to prevent Georgia taking advantage of impressive defense and ball movement as the Wildcats were able to stay a whisker in front. Tiaria Griffin's second deep ball of the game and the return of Miller from her first injury absence sparked the Lady Bulldogs, who trimmed the lead to one point before a Griffin lay-up gave Georgia its first lead of the second stanza.
Dominant Georgia defense kept the Lady Bulldogs ahead by the thinnest of margins as the Lady Bulldogs prevented the visitors from achieving the kind of dominance in the paint that allowed them to nudge ahead earlier in the game.
The hosts surged ahead behind a 10-2 run between the 14:22 and 10:08 marks that allowed Georgia to push ahead 42-37. The effort put forth by the Lady Bulldogs was embodied by the teams only senior Miller, who had to be helped off the court for a second time in the evening after a particularly hard foul that saw the Atlanta native land on her back on the court after making an acrobatic lay-up while being fouled. She returned to the floor 1:20 later.
The suffocating defense the Lady Bulldogs displayed prevented Kentucky being able to set up the shot they wanted as the seconds ticked away before O'Neill's desperation heave went long.
Georgia opened up an early five-point lead as Barbee and Miller scored to put the Lady Bulldogs ahead 7-2. Georgia's defense was a major positive early on as the home team held Kentucky to 1-of-6 shooting before the first media timeout while forcing three early turnovers.
A Griffin 3-pointer kept the Lady Bulldogs ahead as Kentucky rallied back with 3's from Harper and Evans. However the offensive production slowed for Georgia as the Wildcats forged in front for the first time. Turnovers continued to hinder the Lady Bulldogs as this combined, with the visitors effective ness driving the basketball saw the Lady Bulldogs fall 19-15 behind at the 8:00 mark.
Denesha Stallworth hit two free-throws with 20 seconds left in the first half to give the Wildcats the lead at the break.
Georgia outrebounded the Wildcats 46-39 including limiting them to just seven offensive boards.
"They rebounded the ball terrifically and had a great defensive effort. The defensive stop isn't complete until you rebound the ball. Barbee and Hempe were amazing. And on the offensive end, Kentucky did much the same as our defense. We were challenged with their defense" Landers said. "It's just the nature of the Southeastern Conference. Teams are athletic, they're well prepared and I thought the difference tonight is what the difference is normally going to be. We found a way to make a couple more plays than Kentucky could make, particularly in transition."
Georgia returns to action Sunday as it travels to Starkville, Miss., to face the SEC's other Bulldogs, Mississppi State, live on CSS with a 3 PM ET tip-off.
The Lady Bulldogs then welcome Ole Miss to Stegeman Coliseum on Sunday Feb. 9, at 2 PM ET.
Single-game reserved seat tickets for Lady Bulldog games are $5 for adults and $3 for children. UGA students, faculty and staff are admitted to all Lady Bulldog games free of charge with a valid UGA Card. Faculty and staff should pick up tickets at the Coliseum box office. Students are admitted to the arena via the entrance to the left of the box office by showing their UGA Card.
Single-game tickets are on sale via georgiadogs.com, by calling 877-542-1231 or in person at the UGA Ticket Office in the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall from 8:30-4:30 on weekdays. In addition, single-game tickets go on sale at the Stegeman Coliseum box office (closest to Sanford Drive) beginning 60 minutes before tip-off of every home game.