The first time Georgia played Alabama, the basketball game turned into a track meet.
But on Thursday, Georgia and Alabama played at a slower pace, though the result remained the same as the No. 13-ranked Lady Bulldogs beat the Crimson Tide 65-59 at Stegeman Coliseum.
“We kept them from scoring like the last time,” Georgia forward Jasmine Hassell said. “But I don’t think we guarded them like we should have. But it was still a good game for us.”
Georgia (18-4, 6-2 in the Southeastern Conference) set season highs in both points scored and points allowed when the Lady Bulldogs won 95-83 in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 10. But Thursday’s game played at a much slower pace and Georgia had to survive a shaky ending. Alabama outscored the Lady Bulldogs 11-5 to end the game and throw a shiver into the Stegeman Coliseum crowd.
“We stopped transitioning well there at the end,” Georgia guard Khaalidah Miller said. “Alabama is a team that will come down fast and jack a three or take any shot they can find and that’s what happened tonight. We lost sight of that there at the end and that’s what they did, came down and hit a few clutch threes.”
Georgia led by 14 after Merritt Hempe hit a jumper with 5:50 left in the game. But Alabama came back to cut Georgia’s lead to 60-56 after Meghan Perkins hit a 3-pointer with 2:05 left.
“You blow a 14-point lead because you don’t hit shots and you don’t make good decisions,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said. “That’s hard to swallow.”
After Alabama cut the deficit to four, Hassell missed a layup, Anne Marie Armstrong missed a jumper, Miller missed a 3-pointer and Hassell missed the front end of a one-and-one. But Alabama could not capitalize, as it had three turnovers in the final two minutes. The last was the most costly because Perkins was called for a technical foul for arguing an over-and-back turnover with 29 seconds left. Armstrong hit a pair of free throws for the technical, and Miller added two more free throws on the ensuing possession to put the game away.
“We came down and we executed horribly in the halfcourt and threw the ball away,” Landers said. “We had unforced turnovers. They go down and score. We fouled them I think in that sequence. I think there were three almost-fatal possessions for us. We come down and stick up a three with 25 seconds on the shot clock, miss it and they come down and score. We come down and have a chance to layup and we shoot a 10-footer and miss it.”
Miller scored a game-high 11 points and had four steals. Hassell had 10 points and eight rebounds. Hempe added nine points while Tiaria Griffin, Jasmine James and Armstrong each had eight.
“Well, we made some shots,” Alabama coach Wendell Hudson sad. “We had some wide-open shots over the course of the game and we weren’t making them. Then we stepped up and made some of those shots and then got a couple of stops. That combination of making shots and getting those tops really helped us late in the game.”
Shafontaye Myers scored a game-high 12 points for Alabama (12-9, 2-6). Daisha Simmons, Jasmine Robinson and Kaneisha Horn each had 10 points. Alabama came into Thursday with an offense centered on the 3-point shot. The Crimson Tide lived up to their billing as 31 of their 57 field goal attempts came from beyond the arc. Alabama hit 8 of 31 (25.8 percent) in the game from long distance.
“We had too many turnovers trying to force things that weren’t there,” Miller said. “Once we got it where we wanted, we were missing clutch shots up close to the basket, easy shots and layups that we should have made. It’s disappointing to end it the way we did but for the most part it was a well-played game.”
Georgia began the night with a youth movement, as it started three freshmen for the first time in six years. Hempe, Griffin and Shacobia Barbee became the first trio of freshman in a single game at Georgia since Christy Marshall, Angel Robinson and Ashley Houts against Brown on Dec. 30, 2006. Barbee, Griffin and Hempe combined for 22 points and 15 rebounds against Alabama.
“They didn’t score nearly as much as they did the last time we played so we improved our defense,” Hempe said. “We made some little mistakes that were unnecessary at the end. But I knew we were going to come back from it. There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to hustle. I think we hustled really well at the end to get the ball back and kept our composure there at the end.”
Notes: Krista Donald did not play to rest a chronically sore knee. … Miller hit double figures for the first time since getting 13 points against Alabama on Jan. 10. … Georgia had three players with at least seven rebounds, Hassell and Griffin with eight and Armstrong with seven. … Georgia’s bench outscored Alabama’s 25-11.