When the calendar clicks down to the end of February and into March, freshmen tend to wear down.
But Georgia has a pair of rookie guards who have not only maintained their strength, but have also increased their contributions as the regular season closes.
Shacobia Barbee and Tiaria Griffin have become major factors in Georgia’s defensive scheme as the Lady Bulldogs have won seven of their last eight with just one more weekend left until tournament season.
“I’m feeling pretty good right now,” Barbee said. “My legs, they feel alright. But I think I’m getting better as a player, which is good because I think I started to slip a little there for a while. But I feel alright and ready for more.”
No. 11 Georgia (23-4, 11-3 in the Southeastern Conference) will make its last road trip before next week’s SEC Tournament when it travels to Mississippi State (12-15, 4-10) for an 8 p.m. tipoff today at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss.
Georgia’s final game of the regular season is a Senior Day contest Sunday against Vanderbilt at Stegeman Coliseum.
“I feel a lot stronger now than the beginning of the season,” Griffin said. “I’m just trying to push through with a lot of hard work and get stronger in the weight room. That’s what helps a lot, working in the weight room which is something I’d never done before. But I feel good.”
Griffin and Barbee are coming off perhaps their best combined game of the season when the Lady Bulldogs thumped Ole Miss 73-54 on the road Sunday.
Griffin scored 12 points and helped hold Ole Miss’ guard Valencia McFarland to 3 of 12 shooting. Barbeee hit 6 of 7 from the field to score 13 points with six assists and four steals against Ole Miss and was named SEC Freshman of the week on Monday.
“I was excited and a little surprised,” Barbee said. “But apparently, I shouldn’t have been because my teammates said I’ve been playing well. It was an honor, but I wasn’t expecting it.”
Although Georgia is a senior-heavy team, Griffin and Barbee have moved into the starting lineup alongside veterans Jasmine Hassell, Jasmine James and Anne Marie Armstrong. Barbee has been a starter almost from Day 1 and contributed in a multitude of statistical categories.
Griffin began the year as a reserve. She moved into the starting lineup during the second half of conference season mainly because of her defense.
“It’s very unusual for freshmen,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said. “That’s usually the area where they lack. In Cobi’s case (Barbee’s), she came from a high school program (Riverdale in Murfreesboro, Tenn.) that hung its hat on defense. She came in here good to go. She understood the temperament and the mood that you have to have. You have to have a little nasty in you to play defense.
“Tiaria, on the other hand, really didn’t know a whole lot about defense. She had never really been coached in that regard and had never really been required to play defense and been held accountable in that regard. For her to walk in from the first day on and just embrace everything that we’ve asked her to do, is good. She’s been able to apply everything that she’s learned so she’s very unusual.”
Barbee and Griffin are defensively sound enough to guard multiple perimeter positions. That allows Landers the flexibility to swap around matchups according to situation and save wear and tear on James at point guard.
“With Griffin and Cobi both, we’ve got pretty good lockdown on those wings,” Landers said. “The other nice piece of that is when we’ve moved Griffin to the point guard, that’s enabled us to move J.J. (James) to a person that’s less active. So we’ve been able to save J.J. a little bit. You talk about value, you can double or triple your money on some of that.”
Georgia at Mississippi State
When: 8 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.
Where: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Miss.
Radio: WRFC 960-AM.
TV: Premium portion of georgiadogs.com.
Records: Georgia is 23-4, 11-3 in the SEC; Mississippi State is 12-15, 4-10.
Rankings: Georgia is No. 11, Mississippi State is unranked.
Probable starting lineups:
Mississippi State: G Katina May (Jr., 5-2, 5.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg); G Darriel Gaynor (Sr., 5-6, 5.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg); G Kendra Grant (So., 5-11, 11.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg); F Carnecia Williams, (So., 6-3, 8.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F Martha Alwal (So., 6-4, 12.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg).
Georgia: G Jasmine James (Sr., 5-9, 11.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg); G Tiaria Griffin (Fr., 5-7, 7.2 ppg 2.8 rpg); G Shacobia Barbee (Fr., 5-10, 6.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg); F Anne Marie Armstrong (Sr., 6-3, 7.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg); F Jasmine Hassell (Sr., 6-2, 12.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg).
Series record: Georgia leads 26-12, including 10-7 in Starkville.
Last meeting: Georgia won 70-60 in Athens last season.
Season at a glance: Georgia has won seven of its last eight and beat Ole Miss 73-54 on Sunday. Mississippi State has lost three of its last four, including 58-43 against South Carolina on Sunday.
Noteworthy: On Georgia’s last trip to the state of Mississippi Andy Landers won his 900th career game as the Lady Bulldogs beat Ole Miss in Oxford. … Georgia’s Jasmine Hassell is averaging 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds in the last five games. … Georgia guard Shacobia Barbee was named SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday. … The last time Georgia and Mississippi State played in Starkville, Anne Marie Armstrong scored 22 points as Georgia won 68-51 last season. … Georgia’s Krista Donald (Lake) and Tiaria Griffin (Monticello) are from the state of Mississippi … This is Georgia’s last road game before the SEC Tournament next week. … Mississippi State’s Martha Alwal is second in the SEC in rebounding (9.7 per game) and blocked shots (2.5 per game). … Mississippi State had 22 turnovers, including 18 in the first half, against South Carolina on Sunday.