Bench value: Reserves try to provide boost for Lady Bulldogs

If Georgia has designs on climbing out of the Southeastern Conference hole it has thus far plowed, the Lady Bulldogs’ bench will play a vital role.

AJ Reynolds/Staff, @ajreynoldsphoto
Georgia guard/forward Shacobia Barbee (20) steals the ball from Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons (10) during an NCAA women's basketball game between Georgia and Tennessee in Athens, Ga., Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014.

Georgia’s substitutes have for the most part acquitted themselves well in league play, averaging 16 points a game. But in the Lady Bulldogs’ 69-66 loss at Alabama last Sunday, reserves accounted for only six points and four rebounds while committing nine fouls and four turnovers.

There have been some memorably good nights for sub scoring, however, as Georgia (14-6, 2-5 SEC) got 27 points from its bench in a victory at Florida and 25 points in a loss to Texas A&M. Besides the Alabama game, Georgia’s bench has experienced only one other disappointing outing, tallying only five points in the Lady Bulldogs’ loss to Vanderbilt.

“There’s inconsistencies that extend from our starting lineup to our bench,” said Georgia coach Andy Landers, whose charges host No. 13 Kentucky (16-4, 4-3) at 9 p.m. today. “And we’ve got to remedy that. Some nights, yes, we get great production out of our bench. Lately that’s been in the form of one player or sometimes two players. But in terms of one, two, three players coming off the bench and playing well? We haven’t had that in a while.”

Having utilized more than a half-dozen different starting lineups this season, Landers knows of what he speaks. In its victory over Florida, 23 of the bench’s 27 points came from Erika Ford (who has started 16 games), and in a 60-58 victory over Arkansas, Shacobia Barbee (who has started 15 games) came in to score all 17 bench points, and Barbee registered 16 of the bench’s 25 points against Texas A&M.

But Landers was quick to point out that it’s not just about scoring points.

“Points are a bonus,” he said. “How hard are you going to play? How hard have you prepared? Are you prepared to play and are you going to be a factor? Have you made your coaches understand and believe you’ve prepared and when you’re in that game you’re going to be on point? Do you understand what this particular game is all about? You may not get any shots, so it can’t be about points.”

Tiara Griffin, who has held high-scoring honors among substitutes in the 12 games when she’s come in off the bench, agreed that scoring isn’t always the most important thing a reserve can contribute.

“Scoring is a big factor but it’s not really the biggest thing,” she said. “If you’re coming off the bench getting steals and rebounds, that helps a lot, too.”

Georgia players concur that bench play is critical, for myriad reasons.

“Everyone gets tired and when someone gets tired, the next person comes off the bench, they have to be ready to play and contribute the best they can to help out in any way they can,” said Barbee, who leads the Lady Bulldogs in points, scoring average, rebounds and steals. “Whenever we have good games from our bench, the game goes well.”

“It’s huge when people come in off the bench and play and keep up the energy,” added Ford. “When people come off the bench and give us good minutes, it’s an important part of our game. Some teams don’t have a lot of depth, so when you have people come in and give you points and give you good defense, it hurts the other team a little bit when fresh bodies start coming in and they’ve had the same five out there for a while.”

Kentucky has proven to have a potent cast of understudies, averaging 25 points a game in conference play, which included a 43-point performance against Auburn (a 73-71 victory) and a 40-point outburst against Florida (an 83-73 loss). In their 68-58 victory last Sunday against Arkansas, the Wildcats got 22 bench points, including 13 from sophomore guard Janee Thompson.

“In the SEC, bench play is huge,” said Marjorie Butler, who has started five games and averages nearly 20 minutes of floor time a night. “The SEC is one of the most athletic conferences, hands down. You get up and down and go at a high pace and you’ve got to have subs off the bench. It’s a lot harder when you get to a game and you only have a five- or six-man rotation. But when you can bring players off the bench that have energy and intensity, it’s like you’re reloading and keeping that intensity intact.”

The jury’s still out on the Lady Bulldogs’ ability to come back from its disappointing start in the SEC, but it’s clear that if Georgia can rise again, there’s little doubt its reserves will have done had a hand in the revival.

“It’s going to take the bench, but it’s going to take everybody to get us out of this hole,” said Butler. “We’re a team and we got ourselves into this, so we’re going to have to fight together to get ourselves out.”

“There are people on that bench that have started and there’s people on that bench that could be starting,” added Landers. “So to say there’s not great capability on that bench would be wrong. To want them to walk out on that floor and be as productive, or more productive, than those people whose places they are taking is the request, is what’s possible. We’ve got to have that if we’re going to get ourselves out of this.”

NO. 13 KENTUCKY at GEORGIA

When/Where: 9 p.m. today/Stegeman Coliseum.

TV/Radio: SPSO/ The Ref 960-AM/103.7-FM (Gainesville)

Records: Kentucky is 16-4 overall and 4-3 in the Southeastern Conference. Georgia is 14-6 overall and 2-5 in the SEC.

Probable Starters: Kentucky — F Jelleah Sidney (Jr., 6-2, 3.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg); F Samarie Walker (Sr., 6-1, 10.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg); G Jennifer O’Neill (Jr., 5-6, 12.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg); G Bria Goss (Jr., 5-10, 10.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg); G Kastine Evans (Jr., 5-8, 10.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg). Georgia — G Erika Ford (Jr., 5-9, 9.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G Khaadliah Miller (Sr., 5-8, 11.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg); G Shacobia Barbee (So., 5-10, 12.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg); F Krista Donald (Jr., 5-11, 9.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg); F Merritt Hempe (So., 6-2, 7.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg).

Series: Georgia leads the series, which began in 1980, 35-14.

Last Meeting: Georgia defeated Kentucky 82-72 on Feb. 3, 2013 in Lexington, then lost to the Wildcats 71-53 in the SEC tournament on March 9, 2013.

Season At A Glance: The Wildcats fell from No. 9 to No. 13 in this week’s Associated Press poll after a 57-55 upset loss at the hands of Alabama on Jan. 23 and a 68-58 victory on Sunday over Arkansas. The Lady Bulldogs blew a 12-point lead in the second half at Alabama on Sunday and lost 69-66, its first loss to the Crimson Tide in 15 years and 23 games.

Noteworthy: Other SEC teams ranked in the top 25 this week include No. 7 South Carolina (18-2), No. 10 Tennessee (16-4), No. 14 LSU (16-4), No. 16 Vanderbilt (16-4) and No. 17 Texas A&M (16-5). … Georgia is 16-4 against Kentucky in games played at Stegeman Coliseum. … Shacobia Barbee has led the Lady Bulldogs in scoring in seven of the team’s 20 games; Erika Ford has held high-point honors in five games. Against Alabama, Barbee scored a career-high 23 points, her 13th double-digit performance of the season… Khaalidah Miller, who scored 20 points against Alabama, is now just five points away from becoming the 25th-leading scorer in Lady Bulldog history; she trails Angel Robinson, who tallied 1,188 points from 2006-10. … Kentucky forward Jelleah Sidney earned her first start of the season against Arkansas and recorded five points, four rebounds and four personal fouls in 17 minutes of play. … Senior Denesha Stallworth has started 13 games for Kentucky and averages 11.2 points and 5.6 rebounds coming off the bench. … Janee Thompson didn’t start against Arkansas, but has 19 starts this season and is averaging 9.9 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. … The Wildcats have hit at least one 3-pointer in 348 consecutive games and have forced double-digit turnovers in 172 straight games…. Kentucky has but two players who call the Bluegrass State home — freshman forward Kyvin Goodin-Rogers and freshman guard Makayla Epps, both of whom prepped at Marion County in Lebannon, Ky. … Matthew Mitchell is in his seventh season at Kentucky and has amassed a 160-66 mark in that time.

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