LEXINGTON, Ky. — No. 13 Georgia coach Andy Landers has been preparing shooting guard Khaalidah Miller to play point in case of emergency.
Well, the emergency came after just a few practices. Jasmine James picked up three first-half fouls, and in went Miller to run the offense.
“Oh, Lord,” she said was her reaction to the move.
But Miller thrived, scoring a career-high 25 points and leading Georgia to a 75-71 over No. 8 Kentucky on Sunday.
The loss ended a 34-game home win streak for the Wildcats (19-3, 7-2).
“Since high school, I really haven’t played that position,” Miller said. “I always kind of looked at (James) as the one to control the floor. Well, I’ve just been working it, and tonight was the night I had to step up and play the position.”
Georgia (19-3, 7-2) held a 74-71 lead after James hit one of two free throws with 1:12 left, and the score stayed unchanged until the Wildcats held the ball with about 20 seconds to go.
A’dia Mathies and Jennifer O’Neill tried to find an opening for a quick 2-pointer or an open 3, but as time ran out, O’Neill held the ball and was looking to force a 3. With about 5 seconds to go, Shacobia Barbee stripped the ball from O’Neill at the top of the key, and Kentucky couldn’t foul until 0.4 seconds remained.
It took a couple of halftime tweaks to overcome a 40-30 deficit, Landers said.
Georgia had 17 turnovers in the first half_it came in averaging 14.3 per game_and finished with 26, which matched a season worst.
The other tweak was to realign the Lady Bulldogs’ defense to disrupt O’Neill. She finished with 18 points, but had four after halftime.
“She had stepped back and knocked down a couple of threes,” Landers said. “Really, we made the decision with about two minutes left in the first half, but we had such a mixed lineup out there and no real good time to discuss it with the kids, dead ball-wise or timeout-wise, so we just sat on it until halftime.”
In the second half, Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said he was pleased with how his team got behind Georgia’s defense and to the basket; instead, not being able to finish at the rim was the problem. The Lady Bulldogs then turned defensive rebounds into transition opportunities, another area in which Kentucky’s defense is known to excel but was beaten in Sunday.
“Usually we’re a good defensive team, and today they were a better offensive team than we were a defensive team,” Mitchell said. “I don’t want to say that we played poor defensively, I’m sure we’ll look at the film and figure it out. But you had some players on Georgia that did some things today that they haven’t done. They made some great plays and made real critical baskets when they needed to.”
Georgia’s defense held the Wildcats to 35.5 percent in the second half and 38.7 percent for the game, and Kentucky_which relied on forced turnovers in the first half for offense_could not turn defense into offense in the second half. Georgia won the rebounding battle 40-33.
Landers said his coaching decisions were secondary to the performances he got from his players, especially Miller. Her previous career day was at Kentucky_she had 24 against the Wildcats on Jan. 9, 2011_but that was from her traditional spot off the ball.
Landers said he wouldn’t have moved Miller over to the point guard had James not been in foul trouble, but it all worked out. Miller was 7 of 12 and 5 of 9 from 3-point range, and she ran the offense with two turnovers in 34 minutes.
“At halftime, I told JJ, why don’t you go out and get a couple of quick fouls so I can set you down and have to move Khaalidah to the point,” Landers said. “Because I’m feeling 3s from her. How bizarre was that?”