The Georgia women’s basketball team routed Mississippi State 77-48 in its last home game of the season on Sunday before learning they were the No. 9 seed for the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament that begins Wednesday in Duluth.
Mississippi State (18-12, 5-11 Southeastern Conference) couldn’t deny the Lady Dogs’ hustle Sunday. Georgia (19-10, 7-9 Southeastern Conference) filled up just about every column on the stat sheet, from 15 steals to its 32 rebounds, and Georgia’s lone senior, Khaalidah Miller, a guard from Atlanta playing her last game in Stegeman Coliseum, led the charge.
“It just felt really good just to get that win against Mississippi State,” Miller said. “It was my last game so it’s kind of bittersweet.”
Miller finished with 18 points, four rebounds and two assists in her final 40 minutes on her home court, but it came at a price – a busted lip resulting from her tight defense that led to a Mississippi State turnover. Miller has given that same effort throughout her career at Georgia.
“To play at the highest level and start four years and contribute to that kind of success I think answers the question,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said. “How important has she been? Really important.”
The Lady Dogs’ first half dominance became evident when Krista Donald found Miller open for 3 on the right wing to put Georgia up 10-2 with 16:09 remaining. The 3s continued to pour in as Tiaria Griffin answered with one of her own to put the Lady Dogs up by nine during the following possession. That’s the type of offensive flow Landers wants to see next week.
“That’s the feeling that you want going into the tournament, because surely you want to experience that feeling again and again,” Landers said. “And if you do, chances are you’re going to be successful.”
Georgia’s lead began to take a toll on Mississippi State as Griffin’s speed led her to the basket following a steal to give Georgia a 15-4 lead with just under 14 minutes to play. Georgia scored 34 of its points off turnovers, which was all part of Georgia’s defensive game plan.
“They were terrific,” Landers said. “We felt like the point guard was important from a defensive perspective, and I thought Tiaria and Erika (Ford) were absolutely superb; couldn’t have asked them to do it better.”
The Lady Dog’ unselfishness was on display with just under four minutes on the clock as Shacobia Barbee found Griffin open for a fast break lay-up to put Georgia up 35-12 nearing the end of the half.
Miller ended the first half by hitting a 3 at the buzzer to put the Lady Dogs up 44-15 at intermission. The Lady Dogs’ 12 steals in the first half were also a testament of their early, and commanding 29-point lead. Miller finished the first half with 13 points and three rebounds, while sophomore Merritt Hempe scored 10 and grabbed one board. Hempe finished the game with 22 points and three rebounds. Hempe was just one of four Lady Dogs to score in double figures, including Griffin with 16, Barbee with 10 and the aforementioned Miller with 18.
Georgia’s intense defense didn’t let up in the second half as Hempe blocked Dominique Dillingham’s jumper to force a Mississippi State shot clock violation with 16:28 remaining in the game.
“Defensively we played really well,” Miller said. “We just did good collectively as a whole.”
Tied at two a piece just 39 seconds into the game was as close as Mississippi State got to Georgia all day.
“We really needed that win to help boost us up,” Hempe said. “Also just going into the tournament with confidence and getting a great win on senior night for Khaalidah was great.”
The Lady Dogs will be back in action on Thursday for the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth. Georgia will take on Vanderbilt in the quarterfinal round at noon. The conference tournament begins on Wednesday and the championship game will be played on Sunday.