The Georgia women's basketball team produced a 58-56 nail-biter win over Kentucky in Stegeman Coliseum Thursday night.
The Lady Dogs (15-6, 3-5 SEC) can breathe a sigh of relief as their recently downward spiraling conference record makes a small surge upward.
There were seven lead changes in the first period, with the Wildcats (16-5, 4-4) coming out on top at the half 24-23.
Senior guard Khaalidah Miller led the Lady Dogs in scoring in the first half with seven points. Sophomore forward Merritt Hempe led the rebounding effort with four offensive and three defensive rebounds, and added three points to her stat line by halftime.
In the second half, there were only 3 lead changes, with Georgia gaining a one point lead with 12:36 left that they managed to hold onto for the duration of the game. The Lady Dogs gained their greatest lead, nine points, with 4:53 to go, though they allowed the Wildcats to progressively get closer in the final minutes until it was a one point game with .25 seconds left on the clock. Kentucky point guard Jennifer O’Neil hurled up a hopeful buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the last second but missed, leaving Georgia on top.
“It never crossed my mind that we could lose the game,” Hempe said. “I just kept thinking we got this, that there’s no way we’re not going to have this game. I think we all just wanted it so bad, and we just fought so hard, that there was no way we were giving that game away.”
Hempe grabbed another four rebounds in the second half and finished with 12 points, earning her the first double-double of her career. She led the team in both rebounding and scoring. Miller followed with 11 points, junior guard/forward Krista Donald tallied 10 points, and sophomore guard/forward Shacobia Barbee added nine points and 10 rebounds.
Miller left the game twice for injuries, once for upper leg cramps followed by a hard landing after an and-one foul. She is expected to recover and practice as normal.
“For a split second when she went down I thought, 'oh crap,'” Hempe said. “We need her. She is so vital to the team. If she’s not running point she’s playing the two guard and scoring for us, so she’s always doing something. And then I thought, 'okay, this is what we need to do now that she’s out.' We knew we had to stay focused.”
Kentucky isn’t used to scoring only 56 points. In fact, they average the most points in the Southeastern Conference at 84.6, meaning Georgia held the Wildcats to nearly 30 points less than what they are comfortable with. Kentucky also holds one of the best turnover margins in the country, though Georgia managed to make the Wildcats turn it over one more time than they did, having lost possession 14 times to the Lady Dogs' 13.
“I thought we played great,” head coach Andy Landers said. “We started well and we played the whole first half great. We should have been ahead by a couple points at the half but we weren’t. We came into the second half, and for a few possessions it got a little ugly, which is when we had our biggest deficient of 6 or 8 [points]. But then we made that up and got the lead.”
“What’s important is that we play as hard as we can, and as well as we can. And I think tonight we did that. If you’re going to be successful at a high level, you’re going to have to play as hard as you can for forty minutes every time you take the floor. You’re going to be nothing but streaky until you reach that consistency.”
Georgia will take on Mississippi State Sunday on the road at 3 p.m. EST.