NASHVILLE, TN - Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Tennessee was roaring with excitement as the third-seeded (No. 19 overall in the AP Poll) Georgia Lady Bulldogs made their appearance on the tournament court.
Matching up against the sixth-seed (No. 14 overall in the nation) the Missouri Tigers, these ladies were ready for anything the Tigers were going to throw at them. Georgia's Mackenzie Engram and Tajo Cole wasted no time whipping out their jumpers. Defensively, the Lady Bulldogs were going to have to step it up, because with 1:04 left in the first period, the Tigers were only trailing by two points. The first period came to a close with Georgia in the lead, 12-8.
With a four-point lead going into the second, the pace was definitely picking up for Georgia. Engram was leading in rebounds, racking up five for Georgia before the half. Missouri was able to tie up the score at 17, with only three minutes left before the half.
Missouri’s Amber Smith came sweeping in with a three-point jumper that sent the score over the edge. Going into the half, the Lady Bulldogs were trailing by three points, 23-20.
If Georgia wanted to pull off the upset and stay alive in the SEC tournament, they needed to get back into a scoring rhythm after being outscored 15-8 in the second frame. Which also meant Engram needed to be on the court.
While Engram was tough on the boards, she also was in foul trouble early, getting two fouls that played a big role in Georgia's offensive lapses.
“I have a bad habit getting down on myself. And when I tend to do that, I tend to stay down on myself and for this tournament I knew didn’t want that to be the case," Engram said. "So, when I got the two fouls I came off, had one of our teammates tell me our “code word” and I came out of it. I just wanted to be there for my team."
Georgia was on a mission to steal back the lead to start the second half, and it only took them under three minutes to succeed. With the ball whipping back and forth across the court, the Lady Bulldogs were leading by three with 4:48 left in the third. With 2:03 left in the period, Georgia's Stephanie Paul drained a triple that put her team at a nine-point advantage.
The third period came to an end with Georgia leading, 40-32.
In the first three minutes of the fourth, the Lady Bulldogs were able to maintain a lead of eight points. Feeling the heat of the moment, Georgia was mercilessly owning the court. The Lady Bulldogs had their highest scoring quarter with 20 and defensive put the clamps down on Missouri holding them to a mere nine points.
Leading in points (14), and in rebounds (11), Engram earned another double-double to put under her belt which was huge for Georgia to pull away from the Tigers.
You could see the panic set in for Missouri, as Georgia didn’t let up on the pressure in the last 39 seconds of the game. This game reached its end with a final score of 55-41. The turning point for the Lady Bulldogs was its ability to play lock-down defense after intermission. Georgia outscored Missouri 35-18 in the second half.
The Tigers problem was they simply could not find a way to score against Georgia’s defense and were sent home packing earlier than they wanted to.
The Lady Bulldogs will play again Saturday against second-seed South Carolina, who survived a challenge of their own against seventh-seed Tennessee.
Georgia head coach Joni Taylor talked about how they plan to take on tomorrow’s game.
“Obviously we will watch film on South Carolina," Taylor said. "Not let them catch the ball —that’s what makes them so tough. We have to be really sound defensively and not let them score.”