Rally boosts Lady Bulldogs’ confidence heading into regional final

Georgia had plenty of reason to panic when it looked up at an eight-point deficit in the second half of its Sweet 16 game against top-seeded Stanford late Saturday.

Rally boosts Lady Bulldogs' confidence heading into regional final
Roger Clarkson

But the Lady Bulldogs kept their heads and embarked on a late-game comeback that sent them into today’s regional final to play for a spot in the Final Four for the first time since 1999.

“It boosts our confidence, but we were confident before the game,” Georgia forward Anne Marie Armstrong said. “We were confident that we could beat them, so I don’t think it was as big of a confidence booster as some people want to make it seem. We know our strengths as a team and we knew that we could get that win. So to beat them and show everyone that we can do it definitely boosts our confidence.”

Fourth-seeded Georgia (28-6) will play No. 2-seed California (31-3) in the Spokane Regional final at 9:30 p.m. today in the Spokane Arena in Spokane, Wash. The winner advances to the Final Four to play either Connecticut (32-4) or Kentucky (30-5) on April 7 in New Orleans.

“It feels like a dream; it’s crazy,” Georgia freshman Shacobia Barbee said. “It was just a year ago that I was watching it on TV and now I have a chance to be part of a team playing in an Elite Eight game. It’s just incredible. It’s an incredible feeling for me. It was just crazy. There was excitement everywhere. I’m so proud of the way we fought and came back. We held each other accountable and came together as a team. Everybody was encouraging us. It was a huge step for us.”

Georgia overcame an eight-point deficit with 11:50 left in the game to beat Stanford 61-59 on Saturday. It was the second second-half rally for Georgia against a high-profile team in a pressure situation this season. Then-No. 8 Kentucky was riding a 34-game home winning streak when Georgia erased a 13-point halftime deficit to beat the Wildcats 75-71 on Feb. 3 in Lexington, Ky. Georgia also rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to win 57-53 at Arkansas and was down 12 in the first half at Florida before winning 62-57.

“Last night (against Stanford), it was pretty simple — we had 20 minutes to go hard or go home,” Barbee said. “Up at Kentucky, that was a gut-check thing. That showed how we could all come together and keep each other accountable for the little things.”

Georgia has suffered through some horrid shooting stretches during the season and it did again against Stanford. The Lady Bulldogs didn’t score a point the first five minutes of the game and went through a seven-minute span in the second half in which it made one basket.

“I think we’ve gotten comfortable with who we are,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said. “We’re a team that can go dry offensively. But we understand that we’re really good defensively. If we just stay the course defensively until we start hitting shots, then we’ll be okay. I think that’s their mentality. The cool thing about it is normally when we’ve gone into a cold spell, we’ve been able to put somebody else into one too.”

Georgia’s offense eventually came around in the late minutes against Stanford. Georgia was down 50-46 with 4:25 left but hit its last 5 of 7 from the field.

“We have confidence,” Armstrong said. “We had confidence in each other and we stuck to the game plan. In that timeout, Coach said something. Our shots weren’t really falling even though we got a lot of good looks, but he said they were going to fall. He said that he had faith that they were going to fall. We needed to attack the boards, and that gave us confidence in our shooting to know we can do it.”

Defense carried the night as Georgia held Stanford to 3-of-20 shooting to start the second half. Georgia outscored Stanford 27-17 to end the game.

“We overcame the shooting thing by playing good defense,” Barbee said. “Our defense sparks our offense sometimes by creating turnovers and that’s just easy offense right there, getting fastbreak layups. The second half for us was all about focus.”

Spokane Regional

Georgia vs. California

When: Approximately 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Monday.

Where: Spokane Arena, Spokane, Wash.

Radio: WRFC 960-AM.

TV: ESPN.

Records: Georgia is 28-6; California is 31-3.

Seedings: Georgia is No. 4 in Spokane Regional; Cal is No. 2.

How they got there: Georgia beat Montana 70-50 in the first round, Iowa State 72-60 in the second round and Stanford 61-59 in the Sweet 16. Cal beat Fresno State 90-76 in the first round, San Francisco 82-78 in overtime in the second round and LSU 73-63 in the Sweet 16.

What’s next: Monday’s winner will play the winner between Connecticut (32-4) and Kentucky (30-5) in the Final Four on April 7 in New Orleans.

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS

Cal: G Brittany Boyd (So., 5-9, 12.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg); G Layshia Clarendon (Sr., 5-9, 16.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G Afure Jemerigbe (Jr., 6-0, 7.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg); F Gennifer Brandon (Jr., 6-2, 12.6 ppg, 11.3 rpg); C Talia Caldwell (Sr., 6-3, 9.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg).

Georgia: G Jasmine James (Sr., 5-9, 11.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg); G Tiaria Griffin (Fr., 5-7, 7.3 ppg 2.9 rpg); G Shacobia Barbee (Fr., 5-10, 7.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg); F Anne Marie Armstrong (Sr., 6-3, 7.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg); F Jasmine Hassell (Sr., 6-2, 12.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg).

Noteworthy: Georgia is playing in its 11th NCAA regional final. Cal is playing in its first. … Georgia has played all of its 2013 NCAA tournament games in Spokane and has stayed there 12 straight days. … This is Georgia’s first regional final since 2004. The Lady Bulldogs have not advanced to the Final Four since 1999. … Georgia was the only team in the Sweet 16 to start two freshmen, Shacobia Barbee and Tiaria Griffin. Barbee leads the team in scoring (14.0 points per game) and rebounding (8.0) in the tournament. … Anne Marie Armstrong passed the 1,000-point plateau with five points against Stanford on Saturday. … Georgia has won all three times it’s faced Cal but has never faced the Golden Bears in the NCAA tournament. … This is the first 30-win season in school history for Cal. … The Spokane Regional semifinals and finals matched two teams each from the Southeastern Conference and the Pac 12. The SEC’s Georgia beat the Pac 12’s Stanford in one semifinal and Cal from the Pac 12 beat LSU from the SEC in the other semifinal. … Cal hit 26 of 41 from the line against LSU, including 21 of 32 in the second half. … Gennifer Brandon is still adding to her Cal single-season rebounding record of 375.

— Roger Clarkson

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