If you hadn’t watched much of the Lady Dogs before last night’s regional final against Cal, you might’ve wondered how they got this far without consistent scoring, rebounding, and interior size. But that was this year’s team in a nutshell – they went as far as their defense could take them, scrapped for what points they could score, and much more often than not they came out on top.
Against Stanford, that formula was just enough for the upset win. Last night against Cal, the same approach came up just short. Georgia led for most of the game and even built a ten point lead with under seven minutes remaining, but a combination of stagnant offense, foul trouble, and defensive breakdowns led to a Cal comeback, overtime, and eventually a 65-62 heartbreaking loss in the Spokane regional final.
Georgia countered Cal’s up-tempo offense with an effective 2-3 zone. The defense frustrated Cal, and Georgia was able to open up an early 9-2 lead. The Golden Bears plugged away and eventually took the lead, but Georgia closed the first half on a run and went into the locker room up by five.
Cal’s offense was a little more fluid against the zone early in the second half, but Georgia also put up some points. Cal made a few pushes to get to within two or three points, but Georgia usually answered an extended their advantage back to around six to eight points. A pair of free throws inside of seven minutes left put Georgia up 49-39, but things went sour from that point. Cal brought the deficit back into single digits immediately with a three-pointer. They quickly followed with another basket to close to within five. Georgia got a couple of points down the stretch from the foul line, but Cal kept coming and even re-took the lead. Georgia continued to miss shots, but Cal couldn’t seal the win in regulation. A missed one-and-one free throw set Georgia up to tie the game at the end of regulation, and Anne Marie Armstrong scored on an offensive rebound inside of ten seconds left. Armstrong’s basket was Georgia’s first field goal in the final eight minutes of the game.
Georgia started overtime with a Khaalidah Miller three-pointer, but Cal took over from there. The Golden Bears forced turnovers, and Georgia lost sight of Hassell fighting for position inside. Cal left the door open for a miracle by missing free throws, but Georgia let too much time elapse before starting to foul. The Lady Dogs had just two seconds to heave a desperation shot to tie the game, but the shot never came close.
If this were midseason, there would be several things to take from the game. Georgia’s gameplan gave them a reasonable opportunity to win. The zone was effective and held Cal to 52 points in regulation. But at this level, getting the gameplan generally correct only puts you in a position to win. Several not-so-little details kept Cal in the game and ultimately led to the loss:
- Georgia’s zone was effective out of the gate, but Georgia missed an opportunity for an early knockout blow. A solid double-digit lead was within reach by the time Cal started to figure things out, but Georgia couldn’t build a lead greater than seven points.
- Georgia’s 12-of-18 from the foul line looks relatively good next to Cal’s 12-of-24. But those six misses, four of which came in the second half, loomed large as the game got tight.
- Georgia was willing to concede defensive rebounds in order to get back and set up the defense. 22 Cal offensive rebounds were not part of the plan. One of the disadvantages of zone, especially when you don’t practice it often, is that rebounding becomes about improvisation as you aren’t assigned a man to block out. Georgia struggled to rebound on both ends, and they weren’t aggressive about establishing position even when they did find someone to block out.
- The foul trouble of the seniors cost Georgia their poise down the stretch. James quickly went from three to five fouls, and Hassell was neutralized with four. Miller had filled in admirably at point guard when foul trouble set in for James in a hostile environment at Kentucky, but she was tentative when called on in this game. Georgia’s offense came unglued, and good defense wasn’t enough to overcome that.
And yet with all of that, the team went to overtime in a regional final with a very strong opponent. As I said at the start of this post, that’s this year’s team. You can nitpick the details and come away frustrated, but there they were: near the top of the SEC and as close as you can get to the Final Four. That’s the legacy of this team and its seniors – more often than not they found a way to overcome their flaws and ended up elevating the program.