The Lady Dogs fought back from deficits in both halves to earn a 61-59 upset win over top-seeded Stanford Saturday night in the Round of 16 at the NCAA Women’s Tournament Spokane Regional.
Georgia hadn’t advanced beyond this round since 2004, and they had lost their previous three trips to the Sweet 16 by an average of more than 30 points. It looked early on as if we were headed back down the same path. Stanford jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead, and the Lady Dogs didn’t score until a Krista Donald offensive rebound with 14:23 left in the half. Despite the slow start, Georgia managed to keep the deficit in single digits and made their first run more than midway through the second half. Jasmine James scored a quick eight points to key a 13-4 run that gave Georgia their first lead at 22-21. Stanford recovered and went on another tear to close the half on a 13-5 run.
Georgia started the second half within striking distance but couldn’t make much progress. The defense was having better success, but the offense couldn’t capitalize. The score remained 39-32 in favor of Stanford for nearly four minutes, and the teams combined for just 15 points over the first ten minutes of the second half. Georgia began another push with about nine minutes left. Tiaria Griffin hit a jumper in transition and followed it with a three-pointer. The Lady Dogs scored nine straight to take a 44-42 lead with eight minutes remaining.
The teams traded punches for the final eight minutes with neither leading by more than three points until the final minute. Jasmine Hassell, held to just seven points for most of the game, scored on three consecutive possessions, and her drive with 1:05 left gave Georgia the lead for good. Stanford committed a costly turnover, and Georgia milked their next possession before a pair of free throws gave them a four-point lead with 23 seconds left. Georgia’s defense forced Stanford to burn a lot of clock, but the Cardinal hit a deep three-pointer with five seconds left. Georgia, as they did against Iowa State, executed a long inbounds pass and ran off all but one second of the remaining time. Shacobia Barbee hit one of two free throws, and Stanford was left with just a desperation heave as the clock ran out.
Beating a #1 seed is a tremendous accomplishment, and it’s something that Georgia hadn’t done since 1996 – when they faced Stanford in the 1996 Final Four. The win is a big step forward for a tradition-rich program that hadn’t been able to get over this hump for nearly a decade. It’s a legacy for a celebrated senior class who all contributed at key moments in the game. It’s also a small amount of redemption for Andy Landers. Facing long odds to break the team’s string of Sweet 16 futility, he kept calm and trusted in his team’s ability to hang in. The team reflected that calmness and never let the deficit become unmanageable even during scoring droughts.
Landers also made one important adjustment. Stanford’s star forward, Chiney Ogwumike, scored 18 points in the first half. Georgia was content for Ogwumike to have some success, but it was coming far too easily. Georgia dropped another forward, often Anne Marie Armstrong, to help contain Ogwumike in the second half. That freed up some opportunities outside, but Georgia’s guards adjusted well and forced Stanford to settle for difficult jumpers rather than an easy look inside for Ogwumike. Ogwumike still scored eight points in the second half, but the rest of her team couldn’t do enough to make up for the loss in production.
Georgia’s defensive adjustments gave the offense just enough slack to overcome its struggles. “If we can just hang in there until somebody hits a shot, we’re going to be OK,” Landers explained. We knew it wasn’t likely that Georgia would repeat its success from outside that they enjoyed against Iowa State. Early on, Georgia had trouble even finishing at the rim. They got their points in spurts, often with one individual leading the charge. In the first half, it was James. Griffin got hot in the second half. Whether Stanford wore down defensively or Hassell found another gear, Georgia’s senior forward came up big in the final minutes.
Though no one Georgia player was as dominant as Ogwumike was, enough players hit shots at the right time to keep Georgia close enough for the final push that got them over the top. As Landers put it, “I think the thing that’s so good about the comeback and going ahead is that each one of those five players did something that was really significant as we did that. And they did something really significant on each end of the floor.”