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Post Lady Dogs send #4 Auburn to their first defeat

Friday January 30, 2009

A week ago, the Georgia women’s basketball team was reeling. They were 11-7 overall and 1-2 in the SEC. They hadn’t defeated a ranked team all season and struggled to break 50 points against the better teams they faced. Worse, two of their next three games were against Vanderbilt and Auburn. Both were ranked, both were undefeated in the SEC, and Auburn was a perfect 20-0 after running over Tennessee last weekend.

They pulled off the upset of Vanderbilt last Thursday. Then they survived a late game collapse against Alabama to come away with their first SEC road win of the season. But Auburn was an entirely different challenge. Georgia hadn’t defeated a top 5 opponent since Tasha Humphrey’s freshman season – a 78-64 win over Texas in November of 2004. It took over four years, but Thursday’s 67-58 win over Auburn couldn’t have meant more to a program that has completely turned their season around in just one week.

It started, as it has all season, with defense. An active 2-3 zone kept Auburn to more than 20 points off their season average, and the outside shot wasn’t falling for the Tigers. Player of the Year candidate DeWanna Bonner got her 27 points, but no other Auburn player could muster consistent offense. Georgia meanwhile found a balanced offensive attack with four players in double-figures. Angel Robinson was effective inside with 17 points, and a combined 25 from Marshall and Puleo gave the Lady Dogs a needed punch from the wing. A 15-4 run midway through the second half put them up by 11, and they hit free throws and avoided turnovers down the stretch to hold on for the win.

It was the program’s biggest win in a while and on the heels of last week’s win over Vandy gives Georgia a huge shot of confidence heading into February. Of course life gets no easier. Mississippi State is a tough team this year, and then it’s Tennessee in Knoxville next week. Georgia still has return games with Vanderbilt and Auburn left. They still don’t have the firepower on offense to overcome a letdown, but the defense has been a pretty consistent factor all year. Nothing is given though, and things would look a lot better with a win Sunday over Mississippi State.

Georgia is now 14-7 and 4-2 in the SEC. They’ve scored over 60 points in three straight games for the first time since early December. They’re just one game out of the SEC lead near the midway point of the conference slate. NCAA Tournament chances that seemed hopeless now, though hardly certain, seem much brighter. If they can win four of their eight remaining games, they’ll finish no worse than 8-6 in the SEC and 18-11 overall and in the top half of the conference. That would put them squarely on the bubble heading into the SEC Tournament, but with these very quality wins and with the fact that they are the host team for NCAA Tournament opening round games in Gwinnett, you’d have to like their chances.

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