Donald works her way back into rotation for Lady Bulldogs after missing the fall

Krista Donald had to spend the fall semester watching her teammates from afar.

The sophomore forward has returned for the second half of the season, and has already carved out a spot in the rotation.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air to be back,” Donald said. “Now, I’ve got to get back into rhythm. I need to get back into the fold and get back into rhythm. I’m definitely out of shape, so I’ve got to get back into some kind of shape so I can contribute to the team.”

No. 13-ranked Georgia (15-2, 3-1 in the Southeastern Conference) travels to Arkansas (13-4, 1-3) for an 8 p.m. tipoff today at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Ark. Georgia will try to remain in a three-way tie for third place in the SEC, a game behind Kentucky and Tennessee.

“Krista gives us another option and she’s different,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said. “Her ability and her skill set and her mindset are different from anybody else that we bring in at that spot. She’s a little quicker. She’s aggressive. She loves contact. She’s a good rebounder. She can shoot it. She can drive it. She’s versatile. It’s a matchup that tend to throw the other team off balance just a little bit because it’s such a change.”

Donald missed the entire fall semester so she could prioritize academics.

Not only did Donald miss 12 games, but she could not practice until Landers brought her back in December.

“Of course college is hard,” Donald said. “Tough times are there. I just had to understand and know that there’s going to be a better side after a while.”

Donald’s return from limbo has pleased Landers, not just for what she can do on the court but for her growth away from the court.

“It makes you feel good,” Landers said. “I felt good when she was away because we were doing the right thing. It was something that needed to happen because she’s a bright kid who was allowing things in the classroom to slip. You can’t do that as a student and as their coach I can’t let them do that. You have to get their attention.”

Last season, Donald was probably Georgia’s most productive forward off of the bench, averaging 5.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 13.1 minutes a game. Donald has averaged 9.4 minutes in five games since she returned. The 5-foot-11 forward is active beyond her numbers (1.8 points, 0.8 rebounds per game) and gives the Lady Bulldogs a strong and athletic presence off of the bench.

“She’s always looking to bring a lot of energy when she gets in,” Georgia forward Anne Marie Armstrong said. “She’s really does a lot for us on boards, boxing out or getting to some rebounds. She does a great job defensively because she can move really well.”

Donald’s contributions will likely be limited this season because chronic swelling in her left knee keeps her from playing and practicing regularly. Her knee has prevented her from finishing a full practice since she returned and the coaches try to restrict her time on the floor to about 10 minutes so it doesn’t swell dramatically.

“There’s days that we go out there and she might get in 10 minutes of practice and there’s days when she might get in 30 but never more,” Landers said. “We’re careful as to whether or not we let her run up and down the court because the more steps she takes, she gets to swelling. It’s a sensitive thing and we’ve been able to manage it so far. We don’t want to push the envelope too far.”