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UGA coach miffed, singles out upperclassmen after blowout loss

Virginia was able to give Georgia their first loss at home this season. Following the game, a couple members of the Lady Bulldogs question the team’s leadership and will.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Georgia at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Athens, GA — It was a cold night in Athens, Ga., a mere 43 degrees at tip-off, and that much was clear in the Southeastern Conference-Atlantic Coast Conference showdown between Georgia and a visiting Virginia, where UGA fell 66-43.

This was a game of speed, and Georgia struggled to keep up out of the gate.

“It’s a ‘want’ thing,” said Mackenzie Engram. “We’re struggling with our leadership roles. We’re realizing we’re not that team [from] last year and things [still] haven’t changed.”

Head coach Joni Taylor agreed.

“I honestly think some of them don’t think about practice until they get there, and that’s got to change,” said Taylor.

The Lady Bulldogs weren’t able to get on the board until 5:09 with Simone Costa’s free-throw. Virginia had first scored after about 1:30 with Jocelyn Willoughby’s jumper at 8:25

Virginia came out guns blazing with its high-octane offense and a tough-as-nails defense lead by Willoughby that forced UGA to take off-balance shots, risky three-point attempts, and generally fumble with the ball.

In the first quarter alone, Georgia had eight turnovers -- including three within one minute -- to Virginia’s six. By the end of the game, the Lady Bulldogs had 20, and the Cavaliers had 16.

Georgia went into the second quarter a lot more physical which was where Caliya Robinson and Mackenzie Engram emerged. With an increased energy, the two forwards helped the Lady Bulldogs to stay within striking distancing of Virginia. Engram had 18 points on the game, and Robinson added 10.

For the Lady Bulldogs to succeed, Robinson and Engram needed to be selfish. After all, Engram and Robinson shot .533 and .571 from the field, respectively — neither of which could be stopped by the Cavaliers.

While Georgia trailed by 11, 19-8, at the end of the first quarter, the scoring gap was tightened to just eight at the half, 32-24, thanks to the increased play of Robinson and Engram.

Even after nearly closing in on Virginia, the Lady Bulldogs just couldn’t keep up with their speed. Engram and Robinson were getting good looks, but not enough to justify the accuracy the Cavaliers were shooting with.

“I think because of the success we had last year, and we had upperclassmen, but those upperclassmen didn’t have to carry the load, they think they’re better than what they are,” said Taylor.

Entering the final 10 minutes of play, UGA still found themselves in a big deficit, 51-38. The quickness of Virginia continued to pay off as the Lady Bulldogs ran out of steam, scoring a mere five points in the final quarter, whereas the Cavaliers scored 15. There was no letting up for Virginia as Willoughby and Breyana Mason continued to keep scoring for their team, ending the night with 13 and 12 points, respectively.

Next, Georgia hosts Samford at home on Dec. 22, and Virginia hosts Maryland Eastern Shore on Dec. 21.