Although it’s still very early in Southeastern Conference play, it appears the women’s basketball teams from Georgia and Arkansas are headed in opposite directions.
The Lady Bulldogs (14-2, 2-1) and Razorbacks (10-6, 1-2) square off at 7 p.m. today at Stegeman Coliseum, the first step in a brutal series awaiting Arkansas, which plays on the road in four of its next five games.
Georgia is riding a modest two-game conference winning streak and is off to its best start since the 2014-15 season. Lady Bulldogs coach Joni Taylor points out she likes the progress her team is making.
“When we looked at our SEC schedule, we obviously have conversations about the league in general and what we’ve got to do at home and how we have to take care of business on the road, so we are moving in the right direction and this is where we want it to be,” said Taylor.
“We wanted to put ourselves in a good position because any night in this league anything can happen, but you’ve got to take care of the games that you have at home, especially when you can win on the road. So I’m pleased with where we are.”
The Razorbacks, who have a new coach in Mike Neighbors, who took Washington to the Final Four in 2016, average almost 71 points a game (while giving up an average of 69.4 points) and have a horrendous field-goal percentage (37.8), the worst in the conference. But they’re shooting 30 percent on 3-pointers and get almost 24 points a night from behind the arc.
Guards Devin Cosper and Malica Monk pace the Arkansas offense, with both averaging 16 points per game. While Georgia should have a height advantage and a defense quick enough to hound the Razorbacks’ 3-point shooters, Taylor is adamant that defense remain diligent.
“Arkansas is totally different than in the past,” Taylor said. “… In their dribble-drive offense they’re going to drive you, drive you, drive you, and they’ve got great shooters and great penetrators, so we’ve got to make sure we keep our hands off them and don’t foul them. They take a lot of shots and they run after them, so they attempt a lot of balls. We need to contain them and make them score in different ways. We can’t let them drive it on us.”
Georgia has won seven of its past eight games and has yet to lose on the road, but its 56-42 victory last Sunday at Kentucky at Kentucky was not the team’s best moment. Described by Taylor as “ugly,” the Lady Bulldogs needed a strong fourth quarter to make up for connecting on two of 18 shot attempts in the third quarter (11 percent, while the Wildcats shot an even-worse 1 for 11, 9 percent).
Taylor expressed concern about how the team initially reacted to adversity but says defense pulled them through.
“Really, it’s to get into our feelings,” she said. “Kentucky is well coached and they’re a good team and they play very well at home, so I wasn’t surprised it was an ugly game. What I did not want to see was the frustration that we displayed after we were missing shots we normally don’t miss. Fortunately we got that turned around, but it took us about a quarter to get out from that and that’s what can’t happen when you’re on the road.
“When you see that we’re missing passes and we’re missing layups we normally don’t miss, you’ve got to buckle down on the defensive end of the floor and turn your energy up. Like I tell our team, defense travels every game. Offense may not, but defense travels. And fortunately they heard that message and they locked down on the defensive end and we used turnovers, rebounds and transition buckets to get us going until we could find our shot and find our way offensively.”
“We’ve just to relax a little more offensively and defensively,” junior Stephanie Paul said. “I think we did a great job of sticking with our defensive plan. We have to be more focused offensively and we’ll be fine.”
Aside from the twin double-doubles recorded by Mackenzie Engram and Caliya Robinson (both had 12 points and 11 rebounds) the big takeaway from the Kentucky game was the scoring of freshman Que Morrison, who had 14 points and seven rebounds.
She is the team’s third-leading scorer behind Engram and Robinson and averages nearly 27 minutes on the floor every night. Morrison was named the SEC’s Freshman of the Week on Tuesday.
“We’re in her ear all the time about being more aggressive,” said Taylor of Morrison, who’s averaging 8.9 points per game. “Que’s got the ability to shoot the ball, take you off the dribble (and) she rebounds it. She can score in a variety of ways … As we’ve started going, she’s been more focused on defending, rebounding and then getting the ball to Mack and Caliya or whoever needs it and that’s great, but she’s also someone who can be an offensive weapon for us.
“Starting with Vanderbilt we were telling her she’s got to put the ball on the floor, she’s got to be aggressive, she’s got to drive it. And I also think that as a freshman, when we call a play she’s so dead-set on running the play that she doesn’t look for her opportunities to score out of the play. Now she’s more comfortable realizing she needs to do that.”