Although Georgia‚Äôs 80-67 loss at Mississippi State last Sunday was deflating in almost every way, one of the few bright spots in the game was a career-best performance from guard Erika Ford.
Georgia guard Erika Ford (31) drives down court as Georgia takes on Presbyterian at Stegeman Coliseum on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, in Athens, Ga.
In 32 minutes against Mississippi State, the 5-foot-9 junior from Alpharetta scored 27 points to go with four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Two weeks earlier, in a huge victory at Florida, Ford tallied 23 points and six rebounds.
But there have also been nights in Southeastern Conference play where Ford has barely made a ripple on the stat sheet, with two games where she scored two points and a pair of games where she didn‚Äôt score at all.
It is fair to say, however, that just because Ford didn‚Äôt score much in a game doesn‚Äôt necessarily mean she didn‚Äôt play a key role for the Lady Bulldogs (15-7, 3-6 in the SEC), who host Ole Miss (10-14, 1-9) at 2 p.m. today.
‚ÄúShe brings a lot of energy, hustle and defense, and that‚Äôs what we need,‚Äù senior point guard Khaalidah Miller said of Ford. ‚ÄúShe creates a lot of turnovers, whether she‚Äôs stopping the ball and grabbing it or whether she‚Äôs stopping the ball and somebody else grabs it. She‚Äôs always doing something. If she‚Äôs not getting us points, she‚Äôs rebounding, getting steals or getting her hands on the ball. She‚Äôs always on something.‚Äù
Ford, who averages 9.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, said she doesn‚Äôt get terribly anxious if the points don‚Äôt come as she‚Äôs focused on helping Georgia any way she can.
‚ÄúI have a different role in different games and in different situations,‚Äù Ford, who averages 8.9 points and 3.2 rebounds in SEC play, said. ‚ÄúIf my shot isn‚Äôt falling, it‚Äôs not my night and it‚Äôs someone else‚Äôs. The main thing for me is to go out and play defense, get stops and disrupt the other team‚Äôs point guard. I‚Äôm not really concerned as long as I go in and play my role.‚Äù
Lady Bulldogs coach Andy Landers makes no bones about how valuable Ford is to his team, adding that much of her progress came about with an offseason attitude adjustment.
‚ÄúErika Ford is our most improved player,‚Äù Landers said. ‚ÄúIt started during the summer. She was diligent in working out and trying to get better. She changed some things from last year to this year that were keeping her from being good.
‚ÄúShe was a head-hanger a year ago ‚Äî if something didn‚Äôt go right, she‚Äôd hang her head and beat herself up. She had a difficult time when something didn‚Äôt go right, of bouncing back. We‚Äôre almost at the end of this year and I haven‚Äôt seen that one time. We kept saying to her, ‚ÄòYou‚Äôre the only one keeping yourself from being really, really good.‚Äô And she changed that.‚Äù
‚ÄúErika‚Äôs doing really well about dropping her head, which is something we wanted her to work on,‚Äù Miller added. ‚ÄúShe‚Äôs really grown as a player in that aspect and she does a good job of fighting through hard situations.‚Äù
One might think that given its record ‚Äî and the fact that the Rebels have lost eight of their last 10 games to Georgia, including the last four ‚Äî Ole Miss won‚Äôt present too many hard situations to Georgia. But given the Lady Bulldogs‚Äô spotty SEC play, players will be hungry when they take the floor today.
In junior forward Tia Faleru, the Rebels have the top rebounder in the league (9.8 per game) and the SEC‚Äôs third-best scorer (16.7 ppg). Senior point guard Valencia McFarland is ranked fifth in the conference in scoring (16.0 ppg) and second in assists (6.3 per game). Although she didn‚Äôt play in the Tennessee game, senior Diara Moore averages 11 points a night for Ole Miss.
‚ÄúA week ago, they beat Mississippi State and (Thursday) against Tennessee, it‚Äôs a six-point game with 10 minutes left,‚Äù Landers said of Ole Miss. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre a very good basketball team, with two of the top eight scorers in the league and the No. 1 rebounder in the league. Getting prepared to compete is the focus and the last thing I would expect would be any inkling of overconfidence.‚Äù
And with seven games remaining on the regular-season schedule, the Lady Bulldogs feel they‚Äôre now in must-win territory.
‚ÄúWe have to win this game,‚Äù Miller, who had seven points and two rebounds against Mississippi State, said. ‚ÄúObviously, we‚Äôre coming off a loss and it feels good to get a win after that. We didn‚Äôt play Thursday, so we‚Äôre rested and ready to go.‚Äù
‚ÄúThis is definitely a must-win,‚Äù Ford added. ‚ÄúAll the games from here on out are must-win games. We need to go in Sunday and be prepared and ready to go for the win.‚Äù