One might look at Georgia’s 78-65 Southeastern Conference victory over Arkansas on Thursday night and think the Lady Bulldogs had an easy night in the gym, but it was nothing of the sort.
Georgia (15-2, 3-1) had an eight-point lead at the end of the first quarter and extended it to 15 points with seven minutes remaining before the half, at which point the Razorbacks (10-7, 1-3) went on a 17-8 run – holding the Lady Bulldogs scoreless for more than four minutes – to get right back in the thick of things.
A running jumper by Que Morrison with 8:25 left in the third quarter put Georgia back up by 10 at 37-27, but Arkansas kept chopping and chipping and trailed by five at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Razorbacks got to within one points on two occasions in the final 10 minutes, but Caliya Robinson – who finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds — found another gear and Georgia found the free-throw line to close the game on a 19-7 run.
“We knew this team was going to give us a run when they showed up today,” said Georgia coach Joni Taylor. “We didn’t think it was going to be easy at all. We got out to a good start and (Arkansas coach Mike Neigbors) made an adjustment – they went zone and it kind of slowed us down. We were a little bit lethargic and didn’t run as much, and we became very methodical.
“On their end they started driving us and we started fouling them, so we aren’t scoring and they’re going to the free throw line. At halftime, we made some adjustments and it was just the back-and-forth of it, because when you allow a team to get in the game, that’s what kind of happens.”
Here’s three things to know from Thursday’s game:
3s and frees
Arkansas came into Thursday’s game as one of the SEC’s top 3-point shooting team, but the Lady Bulldogs held the Razorbacks to five 3s, which is impressive considering Arkansas had 21 attempts.
“They have players on the team who shoot it better than others,” said Taylor. “They shoot the 3 more than anybody else in the league and they make more because they shoot a lot of them. They attempt 67 shots a game and 27 or 30 are 3s, so when you shoot at that volume, some are going to go in. So (our plan) was to play shooters as shooters and play non-shooters as non-shooters, knowing that some of their non-shooters are capable of shooting it and making it.”
Georgia shot made 8 of 18 3-point attempts (44 percent), which is considerably better than the five treys they average per game. Robinson made 3 of 3 attempts and freshman Gabby Connally added two more.
In terms of shots, however, what may have been the most remarkable stat of the game was that the Lady Bulldogs did not get to the free-throw line until there were 2 minutes remaining in the game. Connally proved to be a cool customer from the line, connecting on 7 of 8 free throws in the last 55 seconds of the game.
When asked if she was surprised that it took so long for her team to get to the line while Arkansas was 16 of 23 on free throws, Taylor was mindful not to be critical of the officiating.
“I thought there were times, especially around the basket, that we got fouled but at the same time we’ve got to be more aggressive,” she said. “We shot a lot of jump shots in the first half, so in the first half I would say I wasn’t surprised. We didn’t really have a lot of back-to-the basket (situations) or drives that would lead to a foul. It was different in the third and fourth quarters.”
“Part of it is on us – we didn’t take the ball inside enough,” said Mackenzie Engram, who finished with 21 points and not a single free throw. “There might have been one or two missed calls. But we took a lot of outside shots…and we have to take it upon ourselves to drive and make contact and get the call.”
Although she only scored one point in 24 minutes of play, senior Haley Clark pulled down a career-high 10 rebounds (six offensive boards).
“Haley is out there because she does so much for our team,” said Taylor. “She’s the glue, she does whatever it is we ask, she guards the best player every single night. She’s really the point guard, but she doesn’t have the ball in her hand. She’s still the one that’s our leader, communicating what we’re doing on the offensive end and what we’re doing on the defensive end. We don’t win any games if Haley Clark’s not on our team.”
Engram’s 21 points was her season high (she also had eight rebounds) and Robinson tied her season’s best with 21 points including a perfect 3-for-3 night from beyond the arc. Robinson also tied her career high in rebounds with 12, posting her second consecutive double-double; she also had five assists and five blocks and leads the SEC with 56 blocks overall and 20 in league play. She has at least five blocks in five games this season.
Connally posted a career-high 13 points, 10 of which came in the final quarter and sophomore Taja Cole recorded six assists, the seventh time this season she’s had at least six in a game.
It was announced just before gametime that sophomore guard/forward Stephanie Paul would not play due to a swollen left knee. Generally one of the first players off the bench for the Lady Bulldogs, Paul tallied a career-best 18 points at Vanderbilt on Jan. 4 and has averaged 6.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. It is unknown when she’ll be able to return.
Taylor turned to junior Bianca Blanaru and freshman Malury Bates to fill Paul’s minutes and both did a credible job as the 6-foot-5 Blanaru recorded two rebounds and one block in nine minutes of play and Bates added two points, five rebounds, one block and one steal.
Georgia’s bench outscored the Razorbacks’ reserves 22-13. The Lady Bulldogs got points off the bench from Connally (13), Maya Caldwell (seven) and Bates (two).
The Lady Bulldogs return to SEC play at 3 p.m. Sunday at Texas A&M (14-4, 3-1). The Aggies, ranked No. 17 in the country, defeated previously unbeaten Tennessee (ranked No. 7) 79-76 in overtime on Thursday.