Lady Bulldogs push past Gators, 67-58

It was entirely appropriate that Georgia’s Shacobia Barbee was at the foul line in the final seconds of the Lady Bulldogs’ 67-58 Southeastern Conference victory over Florida on Sunday afternoon.

David C Bristow/Staff
Georgia guard-forward Shacobia Barbee (20) drives to the basket between Florida guard January Miller (3) and Florida guard Kayla Lewis (22) during the first half of a NCAA women's basketball game between Georgia and Florida at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga. on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014.

With 6:45 remaining in the game, Barbee sustained a left ankle injury while driving to the basket and limped off the floor with Georgia (17-8, 5-7 in the SEC) leading 55-48. While her teammates were holding down the fort in an emotional, scrappy game with the Gators (17-8, 7-5), Barbee sat on the bench while her ankle was heavily taped.

Three minutes later, the sophomore – who finished with a team-leading 21 points and eight rebounds — gingerly returned to the floor, instantly energizing her teammates, who at that point held an 8-point edge.

Barbee displayed her fitness to continue, grabbing a key defensive rebound off an errant shot by Florida’s Ronni Williams with 2:18 remaining to keep the lead at 8. And with 30 seconds to go, Barbee was fouled by Carlie Needles and hit both free throws, cementing the Lady Bulldogs’ second win this season over the Gators.

“Cobi is obviously an impact player for us, whether it’s offense or defense,” senior point guard Khaalidah Miller said of Barbee. “At the same time, we have a longer bench than Florida does. I knew if Cobi went down, Tiaria (Griffin) could come in and give quality minutes. But you should have seen the smile on my face when (Barbee) came back in. That security you (seek) when things are going wrong – you look to her to get the team energized.”

After the game, Georgia coach Andy Landers said Barbee was set to have her ankle x-rayed, adding he was confident she’d be ready to answer the next bell.

“The fact she was able to get it taped and go back out there and play on it tells us it’s not too awfully bad,” Landers said. “We’re off (Monday), so we’ll get her in a couple of times and work on her.”

Coming off a disappointing overtime loss Thursday at Texas A&M, the Lady Bulldogs were sharp in the first half, shooting 41.7 percent from the field and holding the lead (which reached its zenith at nine points, thanks to a 3-pointer by Miller with seven seconds on the clock) for the final 12 minutes. Ford led the way with 11 first-half points, and Barbee added nine points and four rebounds.

Paced by layups by Miller and Erika Ford and a 3-pointer from Barbee, and aided by three Florida turnovers in the first two minutes of the second half, Georgia went on a 7-2 run and extended its lead to 14 points with a little less than 17 points remaining in the game.

But the inevitable Gator run was forthcoming. Florida had a 13-2 surge and pulled within three points at 42-39 on a jump shot by Jaterra Bonds with 12:27 left. But that was as close as Florida would get as Ford responded with two jumpers and a 3-pointer and Miller connected on a pair of free throws to keep Georgia in control with three minutes remaining.

“(Landers) just told us to keep our heads,” Miller, who finished with 14 points and three rebounds, said. “We knew they were going to make a run. It’s the SEC — everybody does. We knew at some point they’d try to step it up and we responded very well.”

“We got sloppy and we got carried away with playing good,” Landers said of his team’s second-half swoon. “We finish the first half pretty strong, we come out in the second half and bam, bam, we score a couple of baskets and then all of a sudden we just got sloppy. We come down and make three horrible passes in the same possession and the third (pass) finally went out of bounds. It was all carelessness. You don’t do that when you’re one point ahead – we wouldn’t have thrown one of those passes. But because we were up 10, we got sloppy. We lost our discipline but then we got it back and we were fine.”

While Barbee’s determination to return to the game was the main topic of postgame discussion, Ford’s shot selection and success ran a close second.

“Erika had a great game,” Miller said of the junior, who finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. “She hits the most outrageous shots I’ve ever seen. It’s (gotten) to the point where it’s just natural now. She hits the clutch shots for us and that’s what we need. She hits shots when we don’t have shots.”

“Erika hit some big shots,” Landers added. “She hit some tough shots.”

Besides Barbee’s injury, the game was marked by an aggressive tenor, as Georgia center Merritt Hempe was smacked in the nose on the opening tip, took a hard fall to the floor while wrestling for a rebound with Florida’s January Miller and went down a third time after a collision in the lane.

“Both teams really wanted to win the game, so we knew it was going to be an aggressive game, but we were ready for it,” Hempe, who had seven points and seven rebounds, said.

“In the first half, when they slammed Merritt down it really got the team hyped,” said Georgia’s Miller. “Then (Florida was) slapping hands afterwards, which really frustrated us. From that point on, we were ready to fight with them and when Cobi got aggressive, everyone got aggressive.”

NOTES: Barbee led Georgia in scoring and rebounding for the third time this season and posted the 15th double-digit scoring performance this season. …The Lady Bulldogs outrebounded Florida 39-33; Georgia is 15-3 this season when recording more rebounds than its opponents. …Miller had her 17th double-digit scoring game of the season, the 66th of her career and passed Tawana McDonald and Stacey Ford to move into 22nd place on Georgia’s career scoring list; she’s scored 1,237 career points and is 159 points away from Camille Lowe (1989-93).

… Georgia is 50-14 all-time against Florida and is 27-3 against the Gators in Stegeman Coliseum.

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