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Post Win over LSU a long time coming for Lady Dogs

Friday February 2, 2007


Ashley Houts gamewinner over LSU

Georgia has had some excruciatingly close losses to LSU over a three-year drought that dates back to the end of Sue Gunter’s coaching career. Whether it was the 2004 Elite Eight or the 2005 SEC Tournament or the game in Athens last year, Georgia played LSU down to the wire but came up just short each time during the period that LSU briefly rose into the elite of women’s college basketball. It wasn’t that one team outplayed or outcoached the other; LSU was just the team left standing at the end.

With that recent history, you’d have to figure that when Georgia finally got over the LSU hump, it would take some sort of play at the end of another close game. That’s exactly what happened last night as they beat LSU 53-51 in Athens on a buzzer-beating shot from freshman Ashley Houts. 53-51. That wasn’t the halftime score…26-21 was all these teams could manage after 20 minutes. This was a close, defensive game the whole way.

Georgia used the same defensive strategy they’ve used over most of the games in this three-year stretch: they focused on and doubled up on LSU’s primary weapon and dared other LSU players to make the shots. This strategy (the triangle-and-two from the 2005 SEC Tournament game in particular) has caused fans to go nuts when they saw LSU players left wide open, but more often than not the plan has worked. LSU hasn’t really run up big point totals in many of these games, and their stars have generally had good but not career-type games. The same strategy worked against last night. All-American center Sylvia Fowles faced constant double-teams. While she ended up with 17 points, she never got on the kind of roll that allowed LSU to get into any kind of offensive rhythym. There was a little wrinkle in the strategy as Quianna Chaney started burying three-pointers, and she scored 14 of LSU’s 26 first half points. Georgia adjusted, and Chaney was held to just six points in the second half while they continued to double up on Fowles.

The Georgia defense became stifling in the second half. When a Fowles basket with over nine minutes left gave LSU the 40-35 lead, Georgia held LSU to only two points over the next seven minutes. A 40-35 LSU lead turned into a 49-42 Georgia advantage.

The difference in this game was simply Angel Robinson’s offense. For the past two years, Tasha Humphrey had been the sole focus of the Georgia post offense. She’s more than held her own against Sylvia Fowles in some epic battles, but no one else could do much of anything inside. With Fowles matched up on Humphrey, Robinson presented a matchup problem for LSU. Because Humphrey is a threat to score from anywhere in the halfcourt offense, Fowles had to respect her shot and step out from the low post.

Georgia countered by going high-low or getting Robinson isolated on the low post against a much weaker post defender than Fowles. During a pivotal second half run where Georgia extended their lead to 49-42, Robinson scored three straight baskets. She sealed off position nicely and made smooth moves to the basket to finish. It was very similar to the late run Georgia made against FSU a couple of weeks ago when Angel also made the difference down the stretch.

Only Robinson’s fifth foul stopped the Georgia run, and that created a big problem. Suddenly Georgia had fewer options to double up on Fowles, and their offense also suffered. A couple of free throws, another Chaney three-pointer, and the seven-point lead was reduced quickly to two to set the stage for the finish. Houts missed the front end of a one-and-one with 23 seconds left, and Fowles tied the game with eight seconds left. Houts brought the ball upcourt and faced pressure right in front of the bench. It looked as if she would be trapped in the corner and unable to get a shot off, but she stepped through the defense and found an opening. Her ten-foot prayer from the baseline as time ran out was on-target, and Georgia had finally broken through against one of their biggest obstacles of late.

For the football fans out there, this felt like the win over Tennessee in 2000 (minus the field-storming and hedge-trampling). It wasn’t the prettiest game, and this might not be the biggest monkey on Georgia’s back (just like Florida was still there for the football team), but the overwhelming sense of relief and accomplishment just to get a win in this series was palpable.

What does the win mean? It moves Georgia, for the time being, into a tie for second place in the conference with LSU and Ole Miss at 6-2. All three teams still must play Tennessee starting with Georgia this coming Monday night in Knoxville. Though there are still six SEC games left, and four are on the road, Georgia seems to be in a good position to finish at least fourth and earn the first-round bye in the conference tournament, and they have a very good chance to finish as high as second. Who knows – if they beat Tennessee on Monday and get a little help down the road, the conference title is still very much in the picture.

The team is certainly there defensively. They’ve been very strong recently against LSU, Ole Miss, FSU, and Vanderbilt – four teams who have been ranked and are likely to be in the NCAA Tournament. If there’s an area to improve, it’s shooting the ball. Georgia won last night despite an atrocious night shooting by the guards in particular. Though they were able to chip in a few points, seniors Chambers and Hardrick were a combined 3-for-22. It’s not that the rest of the team was a lot better – Humphrey, Darrah, and Rowsey were 6-for-22 themselves. Still, this team could be so much more explosive with its senior guards filling the basket. Chambers has been mired in a deep slump since a great performance at Mississippi State. Hardrick has been up and down at times, and she was 1-for-14 last night with a lot of missed layups and chances around the basket. She made some great moves and worked so hard to drive and get to the basket, but she just couldn’t finish. If this year’s team is going to make a push to finish in the top two of the conference and try for a nice postseason run, these seniors really need to get into some kind of consistent form on offense soon.

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