Georgia women’s basketball pulled off arguably one of its largest upsets this season against No. 23 Tennessee, and they did it all without the help of their leading scorer Jenna Staiti.
Staiti, who averages 14.1 points per game, only put up two points and three rebounds with 14 minutes of play. Usually towering over her competition, 6-foot-4 Staiti was troubled by the offensive battle put up by Tennessee’s 6-foot-5 center Tamari Key. Though Staiti’s size and experience were not present, the Bulldogs put up 42 points in the second half compared to Tennessee's 26.
As Staiti sat on the bench, Maori Davenport took over in the second half for the first time this season and drove the Bulldogs’ second-half comeback. Davenport, a transfer from Rutgers, was originally deemed ineligible this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
With six points in the second half, the unexpected decision to sub Davenport in is what Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper says left her team unprepared.
“Georgia made a huge change schematically by not playing Staiti in the second half,” Harper said in Thursday night’s press conference. “It changed what they were looking for offensively, and we struggled to guard them.”
This was an early glimpse into the era of Davenport. Already matching Staiti’s height, the sophomore could also match her athleticism with more games like this one.
“She’s a competitor. I'm not shocked at all that she was able to play the minutes she did last night,” said head coach Joni Taylor. “When we were having our preseason scrimmages and she was on the scout team, she played the entire 40 minutes without a sub. That speaks to the level of conditioning that she has and being able to sustain that without not having played in many minutes since we started the season.”
After being down 25-17 and only shooting 35% in the paint, the Bulldogs never gave up their momentum. Even with Tennessee’s height, which features a starting roster all above 6 feet, Georgia exhausted the Volunteers by forcing 24 turnovers. And at the center of it all was senior Que Morrison.
“Joni told us we were not tough and not disciplined out there and we agreed,” Morrison said. “We came out there and stood together and we were just happy to come out on top.”
In the second half alone, Morrison put up 15 points with the help of three shots beyond the arc. Also extending Georgia’s lead in the SEC for steals, Morrison snagged five more with three in the second half.
Outscoring Tennessee 29-9, Morrison capped off the dominant third quarter performance that had Taylor fired up on the sidelines.
“Having that dawg mentality out there is just me,” Morrison said. “I'm a go-getter and I love being able to go after it on [defense].”
Closely behind in scoring was Gabby Connally with 17 and Mikayla Coombs with 11. Coombs led the team in scoring with eight going into halftime, adding five more assists.
A combined team effort from the Bulldogs implemented the team motto of “showing up” exactly how Taylor wanted. Finishing strong with the depth that Georgia has on its roster is expected in conference play.
“We are not a team where one person can win it for us. That is not how we are built, that is not who we have ever been, and that is not who we are going to be,” Taylor said. “It takes everybody showing up and doing their job. Obviously, Jenna is a huge part of our success, but there is not one person that this team is built around and that is what last night showed you.”
The power of Georgia’s depth — the highlight of its success this season — shined against Tennessee, but the Bulldogs are focused on hosting Ole Miss on Sunday. The Bulldogs will face off against a familiar face in Georgia transfer Donnetta Johnson, who played for Taylor during the 2018-19 season.
Following Georgia’s game against Ole Miss, the Bulldogs will then make their way to Columbia, South Carolina, on Jan. 21 to face the No. 5-ranked Gamecocks in a contest that was postponed on Jan. 7 due to positive COVID-19 tests and subsequent contact tracing.
If there's one thing to take from Tennessee’s game, it’s that the Bulldogs have weapons at all areas of the floor, and utilizing that depth will make for a battle.
“These seniors have been here to see us get a big win and then come back and have a letdown,” Taylor said. “Hopefully they have learned from that and can remember that and we have a lot of respect for Ole Miss. This is not just some handsy team walking in here on Sunday, they are super talented. They are going to give us all they want, so our antennas are up and we are ready for the red and blue.”