Lady Bulldogs work to improve SEC record as they face Florida

Although Georgia let a big one get away Thursday in a 78-73 overtime loss at No. 14 Texas A&M, the Lady Bulldogs won’t be hanging their heads when they enter Stegeman Coliseum this afternoon.

With only five games remaining on their Southeastern Conference dance card, the Lady Bulldogs (16-8, 4-7 in the SEC) have precious little time to look back, and are moving forward free of the memory of the loss at College Station, a game where Georgia led by as many as 16 points.

“I think we need to just let that go,” guard/forward Shacobia Barbee, who scored nine points and hauled in 12 rebounds against the Aggies, said. “It’s in the past, it’s over with.”

The Georgia contingent expressed distress with the loss, but it’s probably wise not to count the Lady Bulldogs — who host Florida (17-7, 7-4) today — out yet.

“I think they’re disappointed, I don’t think they’re discouraged,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said Friday afternoon. “We’re not in a position where we can be discouraged. We play Sunday, so you gotta be mature about the situation and understand you can play good and get beat.

“We actually talked about it before the game ­— I said to them, ‘You go out, punch them in the face and understand that, when you do that, you’re starting a fight that’s gonna last for 40 minutes.’ Either team can play really, really good and come up short, but if both teams play hard, they play their best, it’s gonna be a ball game. That’s what happened.”

“We played really hard; we fought,” center Merritt Hempe, who recorded a career-best 19 points, added. “I think we had good effort and a really good attitude the entire game. Of course, losing that close game is discouraging, but we’re a tough team and we’re ready for the next game.”

Landers added that he didn’t think he’d have to make much in the way of a pregame speech to get his team primed for Florida, which Georgia defeated 68-62 on Jan. 19 in Gainesville.

“They’ve been resilient,” Landers said. “I’d be very disappointed if I had to pick them up off the floor. Will I need to encourage them up some? Yes. But the reality is, we played really good basketball for the better part of the game (Thursday).”

Florida has won four of its last five games — including an 86-80 victory last Sunday over then-No. 15 Kentucky — and showcases four players who score in double digits, led by guard Jaterra Bonds (15.3 ppg). There are only nine Gators on the roster, with the least-used player averaging 17 minutes a night. A compact roster can prove to be a problematic opponent, Landers said.

“We’ve had a number of teams through the years that have played with seven or eight players,” he said. “When you have teams with seven or eight players, it tightens the focus. You can’t defer to someone else. You realize you have to play — you have to bring your ‘A’ game and your ‘A’ effort every night because there’s no one to put in for you.

“Those kids on the bench realize they’re the same as starters Рthey know they’re going to play every night. There aren’t any peripheral players that are watering down the focus. Everybody’s engaged Рthat’s who we’re playing.”

In their previous matchup, Georgia trailed Florida for much of the game but came on strong at the end with a 15-9 run that paved the way for the Lady Bulldogs’ second league victory. Rebounding was a key factor in the victory, as Georgia posted 47 to the Gators’ 27.

“Just rebounding the ball-I think that’s really crucial,” Hempe said. “They have some really good rebounders, they’re really aggressive. We need to make sure we get back in transition. And then also, on the flip side, we need to make sure we’re running the ball and we’re having our points in transition.”

With his team coming perilously close to just their third sub-.500 mark in SEC play in 33 years of league play, Landers said he’s not looking ahead to start gauging the team’s postseason prospects. The Bulldogs haven’t had a losing conference record since the 2001-02 season and haven’t missed the NCAA tournament since the 1991-92 campaign.

“I’m counting the next game. Honestly, it’s all that matters,” Landers said. “It’s a day by day process. If the record were reversed, it would be the same. You can’t drift off.”

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@JeffSchultzAJC @SethEmerson @BizWriterKristi Less than 3 weeks until basketball opener. Not that we are counting down.

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