The Los Angeles Lakers have their Kobe and the Georgia Lady Bulldogs have their Cobi.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, Kobe Bryant remains on the shelf due to a bad knee, but Georgia‚Äôs Shacobia Barbee appears to be more than fit for duty after spraining her left ankle in last Sunday‚Äôs 67-58 Southeastern Conference victory over Florida.
Barbee hobbled off the court with about six minutes remaining and after a heavy tape job on her ankle returned for the game‚Äôs final three minutes, hitting two free throws and grabbing a critical defensive rebound. But perhaps more importantly, Barbee‚Äôs return to the game seemed to energize her teammates in crunch time.
With a critical game tonight against No. 19 LSU (18-7, 7-5 in the SEC) approaching, the Lady Bulldogs (17-8, 5-7) will need as much of Barbee‚Äôs prolific production as she can provide. The 5-foot-10 Barbee is the team‚Äôs top scorer (averaging 12.7 points a game) and leads Georgia in eight statistical categories, including rebounds, steals and free throws made.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm good and ready to go,‚Äù Barbee, Georgia‚Äôs leading scorer in eight games, said Tuesday. ‚ÄúIt was just a sprain ‚Äî nothing big.‚Äù
‚ÄúI felt like the fact she was able to tape it (up) and come back in Sunday was a really good sign.‚Äù Georgia coach Andy Landers said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôll take care of her and she should be good to go.‚Äù
Winners in three of their last five games and still digging themselves out of the 0-4 hole they quarried to start SEC play, the Lady Bulldogs will find a formidable foe on the Stegeman Coliseum floor tonight. The Tigers have lost two of their last three games ‚Äî to No. 6 South Carolina and No. 14 Texas A&M ‚Äî and will no doubt arrive in Athens determined to get back on track as the regular season comes to an end.
Paced by 6-foot-5 senior Theresa Plaisance, who averages 14 points and six rebounds an outing, the Tigers are not excellent in any one phase of the game nor are they decidedly deficient. In fact, LSU finds itself in the middle of the SEC pack in nearly every statistical category.
‚ÄúYou call that really solid,‚Äù Landers said of the Tigers of coach Nikki Caldwell, now in her third season in Baton Rouge. ‚ÄúThey don‚Äôt have a weakness and they‚Äôve got all the pieces from a personnel standpoint to beat you, or to hurt you, in different ways in any particular game.‚Äù
Landers pointed to LSU‚Äôs quickness, its 3-point shooters (Plaisance shoots 3s at a .425 clip and teammate Jeanne Kenney has a .415 success rate beyond the arc), its superior height inside and ‚Äúreasonably good depth‚Äù as the Tigers‚Äô strengths. He‚Äôs also well aware that LSU wants to neutralize the odor from its two recent losses with a signature road victory.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm sure (LSU will) be motivated and I think our kids are excited about the way they‚Äôve played lately,‚Äù Landers said. ‚ÄúThey want to build on that. They don‚Äôt want to see it evaporate. They‚Äôd like to have a win like the one they could get if they play well against LSU.‚Äù
Georgia guard Erika Ford, who averages 10.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, acknowledged that LSU will be highly motivated, but added the Tigers will be facing an equally stirred opponent.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre a hungry team, too,‚Äù Ford said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got to get our SEC wins up, too, so either way, nobody‚Äôs taking anything lightly and both teams will come to play, so it will be a hard-fought game.‚Äù
As is often the case in SEC games, cleaning the glass is subject to be a big factor in the outcome. Georgia has won the rebounding battle in five of its last seven games but LSU will bring along some big bodies.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got to execute, first of all, offensively,‚Äù Landers said. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre going to want to play some match-up zone, which is fine. We need to know, to pick and choose, where we want to strike at with that zone. The rebounding piece will be really important and I think it will be a terrific challenge for us because not only are they big inside, they have a guard that averages (6.1) rebounds a game in (Danielle) Ballard. The rebounding piece is important.‚Äù
‚ÄúFrom our standpoint, we‚Äôve got to do what we do every night ‚Äî go out, play hard, execute on offense and play good defense,‚Äù Ford said.
NO. 19 LSU AT GEORGIA
When/where: 7 p.m. today/Stegeman Coliseum
TV/radio: None/ The Ref 960-AM and 103.7-FM Gainesville
Records: LSU is 18-7 and 7-5 in the Southeastern Conference; Georgia is 17-8 and 5-7 in the SEC.