DULUTH — The first cold-shooting start to a half didn’t bury Georgia. But the second one did.
Kentucky used a second-half surge to blow past Georgia 60-38 in the Southeastern Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament semifinals on Saturday at the Gwinnett Center Arena.
“We need to focus better,” Georgia guard Jasmine James said. “We need to focus on playing 40 minutes in a game instead of playing 20 or 30. We need to be able to put it together and play a complete 40 to be as good as we can possibly be.”
Georgia hit three of its first 24 field goals to start the first half but recovered to take a five-point halftime lead.
Poor shooting afflicted Georgia again to start the second half as the Lady Bulldogs hit just 2 of its first 12. But this time Kentucky took advantage with a 23-6 run to out of the locker room to take permanent control.
Georgia scored a season-low 14 points in the second half and finished with 38 which tied a season low. Kentucky scored more points in the second half with 41 than Georgia scored in the game.
“We strayed from where we wanted to be defensively,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said. “We strayed from where we were in the first half defensively and we paid for it. From that point on, it wasn’t a lot of fun.”
Second-seeded Kentucky (27-4) will play fourth-seeded Texas A&M (23-9) in the SEC Tournament title game today at 6 p.m. at the Gwinnett Center Arena. Texas A&M upset first-seeded Tennessee 66-62 in the earlier semifinal on Saturday.
Georgia (25-6) will await a probable NCAA Tournament at-large bid to be announced next week.
“We feel we’re the deepest, most talented team in the SEC,” Kentucky guard A’dia Mathies said. “I think if you don’t set goals like this (SEC championship), you shorten yourself. We’re very capable of doing that. Just Just to have the opportunity to go out there and still make that goal, it means a lot. I know we’re going to work hard at it. Nobody wants to leave here with a loss.”
Georgia produced some ugly offensive numbers against Kentucky. Jasmine Hassell scored more points in the first half (15) than Georgia did as a team in the second half (14). Georgia only had two assists in the game, one by James and another by Anne Marie Armstrong. Georgia only hit 1 of 18 (5.6 percent) from the 3-point line. Hassell (6 of 10) and James (4 of 14) were the only Lady Bulldogs to hit more than one field goal.
“Kentucky has a defense that applies a lot of pressure,” James said. “When we finally did get open to knock down shots, we just didn’t do a good job of doing that. That’s practice and focus. Clearly we didn’t have that.”
The last time Georgia played Kentucky, Khaalidah Miller scored a career-high 25 and Georgia won 75-71 in Lexington. But on Saturday, Miller, James, Armstrong and Tiaria Griffin shot a combined 7 of 43 (16.7 percent) from the field.
“I thought we were much better at getting them outside the NBA 3-point lines, where we want them to start their offense,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We needed to do a better job of getting them out of rhythm. I thought our bigs played better defense on Anne Marie Armstrong (1-for-13 shooting). I thought Kastine (Evans) and Bria (Goss) did a good job of getting into Jasmine James’ legs. I thought she played a tough game, had to go a lot of minutes. I thought at the end we were able to force their offense to start outside their comfort zone.”
DeNesh Stallworth scored a game-high 18 points and blocked four shots for Kentucky. Mathies had 11 points.
Hassell was the Lady Bulldogs’ only double-figure scorer with 17 points and nine rebounds. James added nine points and six rebounds. Nobody else from Georgia had more than one field goal in the game.
“We need to refocus and do what we need to do,” Hassell said. “We need to fight more. We need to execute. We need to execute our game plan. We did not do that. We didn’t do that in the second half.”
Although Georgia started cold in the first half, it made up for the bad shooting with rebounding and defense. Georgia out-rebounded Kentucky 28-17 in the first half and had 12 offensive rebounds that it turned into eight second-chance points. Georgia also forced nine turnovers that it converted into eight points and led 24-19 going into halftime.
But the second half was a different story. Georgia hit just 6 of 29 from the field (20.7 percent) in the second half as Kentucky outscored the Lady Bulldogs 41-14.
“The second half was obviously disappointing,” Landers said. “It started on the offensive end with turnovers which led to some transitions and quick loss of possessions. We were on defense and bam, we give up the three (pointer). We go on defense again and we give up another 3-pointer. All of the sudden the lead is gone.”
NOTEWORTHY: Georgia fell to 9-11 all-time in the SEC Tournament semifinals. … Georgia out-rebounded Kentucky 48-38 but lost the game. Georgia is 20-3 when out-rebounding an opponent. … Georgia led at halftime but lost the game for jus the second time this season. … Georgia turned the ball over 18 times which led to 17 Kentucky points. … Khaalidah Miller made Georgia’s only 3-pointer and was 1-for-4 from long distance.