A year ago, the Lady Dogs needed just one win over their final three games to secure a second place finish in the SEC, their best result in several years. Consecutive losses to Tennessee, Auburn, and Florida dropped Georgia from second to fourth and took a bit of the shine off of a promising season.
A somewhat similar situation faced this year’s team. Entering the final week of the regular season half the conference was within two games of each other. Though a loss at Florida knocked them out of contention for first or second place, they had the most direct path of any team to a nice third place finish. That path, though, required a sweep of the final two games. The first was, at least on paper, easy enough. Ole Miss was in last place. After a tight first half, Georgia pulled away to win easily on Thursday.
Sunday’s challenge against LSU was a different story. LSU were winners of six straight including a win over SEC champ Kentucky. They used that six-game run to break out of the lower half of the conference standings and rise to a tie with Georgia (and Arkansas) heading into Sunday’s season finale. Under first-year coach Nikki Caldwell, the Tigers had found their identity – a physical style that played off of their significant height advantage. Their size and length lends itself to a smothering matchup zone defense, and they led the league in field goal defense.
The first half was in a style that was to LSU’s liking. Georgia led 26-23 at the break, but the game was on a pace to be right in LSU’s comfort zone. Their zone frustrated Georgia and frequently forced the Lady Dogs to chew up a lot of shot clock. Fortunately Khaalidah Miller was able to drain four three-pointers over the zone, and her 12 first-half points helped carry the team past the difficulties it was having in the rest of the halfcourt offense.
While the LSU defense might have set the tone in the first half, the second half was all about Georgia’s defense. A more active zone created turnovers and transition opportunities, and those breaks helped to open up the logjam that was the LSU defense. A Jasmine Hassell layup with just over 14 minutes remaining started a 25-4 run of Georgia dominance through the final media timeout. The Lady Dogs ended up with 16 steals and caused 23 LSU turnovers. They were as smart as they were aggressive; LSU is one of the SEC’s better teams from the free throw line and looks to draw contact and fouls. Georgia limited LSU to only 10 free throw attempts – around half of their typical number. The result was a comfortable 62-46 win over a confident and streaking LSU team – a very satisfying and deserved Senior Day win.
Georgia heads into the postseason as winners of six of their last seven games. They’re as healthy as they’ve been in months. The loss eight days ago at Florida has to be a reminder that not much separates Georgia from the rest of the conference, but the Lady Dogs have shown with increasing frequency down the stretch that they have what it takes to make some noise in the postseason.