With its 75-37 drubbing of North Florida Thursday afternoon at Stegeman Coliseum, the Georgia Lady Bulldogs pronounced themselves ready to begin Southeastern Conference play.
Georgia improved to 12-1 (matching coach Joni Taylor’s best start, which took place in her first campaign in charge) and posted their best defensive performance of the season after giving up 44 points to Furman on Nov. 3 and 47 points to Howard on Dec. 19.
“I’m pleased with what we’ve done,” said Taylor, whose teams are now 33-8 in non-conference games. “Even the game against Texas (an 81-53 loss) was a great lesson for us. We had good wins on the road that challenged us and stretched us and we took care of business at home. More than anything I’m glad we were able to get as many people playing time as we did. That’s going to help us tremendously with conference play coming.”
For just the fourth time this season, all 12 players on the roster got in the game and 11 of those Lady Bulldogs scored at least two points, with freshman Maya Caldwell’s 15 points leading the way. And with No. 5 Mississippi State coming to call Sunday, no player logged more than 23 minutes of court time.
Here are three things to know from Thursday’s game:
Oh, Maya goodness
After not scoring in seven minutes of play in the first two quarters, Caldwell exploded for 15 points in the second half, posting six points in the third quarter and nine points in the fourth quarter.
She connected on 5 of 8 field goals, including 4 of 5 3-point attempts, to lead Georgia in scoring for the third time this season.
“I was really relaxed from the perimeter today,” said Caldwell, whose career best was 20 points against Georgia Tech. “It’s something I’ve been working on, so it felt good to hit those 3s today. “
Coming off the bench, Caldwell can be a potent weapon, and Taylor says the freshman from Charlotte, North Carolina, plays as well inside as she does on the perimeter. Going into Thursday’s game, Caldwell was shooting slightly above 50 percent from the field (32 of 63) and 50 percent from beyond the arc (10 of 20).
“Everyone talks about her ability to score – she’s always had that,” said Taylor. “She has to continue to gain ground on the defensive end, learning our concepts and keeping the ball in front of her and not fouling. If she can stay on the floor, you’re going to see a lot from her.
“She can score in bunches really well and as well as she can score the 3, she’s also got a nice inside game. I tell her she was a post player in her former life because her ability to rebound it and step through and shot-fake you and put it back up is fun to watch.”
“We were all talking about how well she shot it from the 3 today,” said Mackenzie Engram, who finished with nine points. “She hit her fourth 3 and I was freaking out on the bench. She’s a great all-around player and she really stepped up tonight, and it’s especially good for her going into SEC play.”
If the Lady Bulldogs were pleased with limiting North Florida (7-7) to but 10 first-half points, they had to be chagrined to be giving up 16 points in the third quarter.
But it should be noted that with a 25-point advantage at the half, Taylor used a lot of time in the second half to send out different combinations of players.
“We held them to six points in the first quarter and four in the second quarter and we talked about what we wanted to do in the third quarter, and to come out and give up 16 points is disappointing,” said Taylor.
“At the same time, you have to understand there are different people in there…More than anything, it’s getting combinations playing more together in practice. That’s the challenge because there are so many different combinations out there and so many different groups. We have to make sure they’re all comfortable playing with each other.”
Although Georgia has played four games with more assists this season, the Lady Bulldogs seemed to pass the ball with a renewed vigor against North Florida, recording 22 assists, led by Gabby Connally’s seven. They also took relatively good care of the ball with 13 turnovers and scored 30 points off North Florida’s 22 miscues.
Interestingly enough, opinions about the passing game were a bit mixed in postgame interviews.
“We probably should have passed it a little more today,” said Caliya Robinson, who had 13 points, six rebounds and one assist on the afternoon.
“We want to play unselfish, and if the extra pass is there, we’ll make it,” added Caldwell, who recorded three assists. “We know we can make that pass if it’s there; if it’s not, we can kick it back out. We just don’t want any unforced turnovers.”
Of course, it’s the coach who ultimately decides on the effectiveness of the passes being thrown.
“I thought we passed the ball well,” said Taylor. “If anything, we’re too unselfish sometimes. It’s great that they’re looking for Mack and they’re looking for Caliya, but when they’re covered up they still need to be able to score the basketball. I would say we shared the ball well today, but there comes a time when we become too unselfish and we over-pass it.”
Georgia will host Mississippi State in both teams’ SEC opener at 6 p.m. Sunday.