Freshman guard Griffin working to become more defensive-minded

When Andy Landers came back from scouting Tiaria Griffin, he said he liked the potential.

But he didn’t know what to think of her ability to defend, which is one of the cornerstones of his program.

“I went to her state championship game and I came home with a headache,” Landers said. “She didn’t guard anybody at all. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness gracious, if this is the state championship game, she hasn’t guarded anybody all year.’”

Griffin, a 5-foot-7 freshman guard from Monticello, Miss., has learned quickly and now Landers said he believes she could become one of the best defensive guards he has ever coached.

“She came in here and from the first day she wanted to please us,” Landers said. “She’s a very good listener. She trusted us. She processes things very well. Because of that, she got some basic fundamentals under her really quickly.

“She’s kind of grown and needs to continue to grow. She’s not there yet but she’s better than she was. If she’d go back and play the state championship, now she’d win.”

No. 13-ranked Georgia (14-2, 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference) returns home to face No. 18-ranked South Carolina (14-2, 2-1) at 1 p.m. today at Stegeman Coliseum. Griffin comes off of a 20-point, five-rebound performance in Thursday’s 95-83 win at Alabama.

“I feel like I’m doing pretty well as of right now,” Griffin said. “I’m trying to get into a groove and stay focused and play the game. I’m learning how to get into the passing lanes and interrupt the ball on defense. That’s the big thing to be disruptive on defense.”

Although Griffin came to Georgia with a much more offense-oriented outlook, Landers likens her to former Georgia guard Sherill Baker, who also went through a transition from high school scorer to collegiate defensive standout.

“Sherill Baker was national defensive player of the year and my sense is that if Tiaria wants to put her mind to it, she can do that too,” Landers said. “She has the ability to move her feet and her hands at the same time and you don’t see that too often. You see people who can do one or the other but not both at the same time and Tiaria is one of them. She has very good quickness. She has great lateral quickness. She can guard you close and keep you in front of her. What she has to work on is the avoidance of screens and creating some contact defensively that will allow her to not get run off and left on screens. She’s done a heckuva job.”

Griffin has picked up her point production since SEC play started. She has totaled 39 points and 12 rebounds in the last three games.

“She’s coming along really well,” Georgia senior Jasmine James said. “I’d definitely say that she has a lot of potential playing defense. She has really long arms. Because of that she can get her hands on a lot of balls and cause a lot of confusion. She does a really good job of staying on her man as well as helping so she can be a really great defensive player and that’s something that will definitely be helpful as the season goes along.”

Griffin is one of three freshman guards who have made a major impact so far this season. Shacobia Barbee has become a consistent starter on the wing. Marjorie Butler has become James’ primary backup at point and Griffin has supplied defensive energy and an offensive spark off of the bench.

“I try to play my role,” Griffin said. “I do what’s needed to be done to get the job done whether it’s on offense or defense.”

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@JeffSchultzAJC @SethEmerson @BizWriterKristi Less than 3 weeks until basketball opener. Not that we are counting down.

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