Although Georgia’s 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’t score at all.
It is fair to say, however, that just because Ford didn’t score much in a game doesn’t necessarily mean she didn’t 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.
“She brings a lot of energy, hustle and defense, and that’s what we need,” senior point guard Khaalidah Miller said of Ford. “She creates a lot of turnovers, whether she’s stopping the ball and grabbing it or whether she’s stopping the ball and somebody else grabs it. She’s always doing something. If she’s not getting us points, she’s rebounding, getting steals or getting her hands on the ball. She’s always on something.”
Ford, who averages 9.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, said she doesn’t get terribly anxious if the points don’t come as she’s focused on helping Georgia any way she can.
“I have a different role in different games and in different situations,” Ford, who averages 8.9 points and 3.2 rebounds in SEC play, said. “If my shot isn’t falling, it’s not my night and it’s someone else’s. The main thing for me is to go out and play defense, get stops and disrupt the other team’s point guard. I’m not really concerned as long as I go in and play my role.”
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.
“Erika Ford is our most improved player,” Landers said. “It 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.
“She was a head-hanger a year ago — if something didn’t go right, she’d hang her head and beat herself up. She had a difficult time when something didn’t go right, of bouncing back. We’re almost at the end of this year and I haven’t seen that one time. We kept saying to her, ‘You’re the only one keeping yourself from being really, really good.’ And she changed that.”
“Erika’s doing really well about dropping her head, which is something we wanted her to work on,” Miller added. “She’s really grown as a player in that aspect and she does a good job of fighting through hard situations.”
One might think that given its record — and the fact that the Rebels have lost eight of their last 10 games to Georgia, including the last four — Ole Miss won’t present too many hard situations to Georgia. But given the Lady Bulldogs’ 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’s 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’t play in the Tennessee game, senior Diara Moore averages 11 points a night for Ole Miss.
“A week ago, they beat Mississippi State and (Thursday) against Tennessee, it’s a six-point game with 10 minutes left,” Landers said of Ole Miss. “They’re 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.”
And with seven games remaining on the regular-season schedule, the Lady Bulldogs feel they’re now in must-win territory.
“We have to win this game,” Miller, who had seven points and two rebounds against Mississippi State, said. “Obviously, we’re coming off a loss and it feels good to get a win after that. We didn’t play Thursday, so we’re rested and ready to go.”
“This is definitely a must-win,” Ford added. “All 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.”