Gary Blair's streak of conference championship game appearances continues today at 5PM Central Daylight Time. Having dispatched the #1 seed, the Ags will see if they can beat the #2 seeded Kentucky Lady Wildcats in the teams' third meeting of 2013. Kentucky was the preseason pick by most to take the conference crowns.
Despite the advantage of playing an hour from Athens, the Georgia Bulldogs matched their lowest offensive output of the year, scoring only 38 vs. the Kentucky Lady Wildcats on 14-63 (22.2%) shooting, including going 1-18 from behind the arc. The Bulldogs previous lows were vs 38 vs Vic Schaeffer's Miss State rebuilding project, 42 in a win vs S. Carolina, and 44 at home vs. the Ags on Jan 20. From what little I could see of the fans on the broadcast, the virtual home game crowd had more blue and orange than Georgia red. Astonishingly, Georgia actually led at halftime, as Kentucky only shot 25.9% before the break and got outrebounded 25-12.
Georgia's Andy Landers got a reminder to change the batteries in his smoke detectors today, as the WildCats caught fire in the second half. The Cats outscored the Dawgs 41-14 after the break. The scariest thing about that half was that they did this with only 11 pts for the game (6 for the half) from co-POY A'dia Mathies, who averages 15.8. More postmortem from Glenn Logan at A Sea of Blue.
In the previous meetings with the Cats, the Ags have come agonizingly close to pulling off an upset. At Lexington, despite 20 turnovers Kentucky's largest lead in the first game was 6. Peyton Little's chance to send the game into OT was offline in the closing seconds. At Reed, it took a putback off a desperate Jen O'Neill 3 pointer to thwart the A&M comeback. In that game, KY had taken a 14 point second half lead, but the Ags fought back to make it a game. A&M had 18 turnovers in that game, including several that seemed like total brain freezes, where it seemed like the Ags thought that pink unis meant home team on Breast Cancer night.
The themes that emerge from watching both teams over the season:
- No lead is safe vs. the Wildcats. Holly Warlick's postgame after our win yesterday talked about Tenn making a mistake by relaxing when they went up by double digits. If the Ags get ahead (and the Ags have led in the first half of both previous games), they have to know that Kentucky loves to come from behind.
- Kentucky is deep. A'dia Mathies is the nationally known star, but O'Neill can get scary-hot behind the arc. Stallworth can go off in the post, and players like Bria Goss, Kastine Evans, Samarie Walker, and Janae Thompson are all quick and dangerous. Coach Mitchell uses his bench in waves to keep up the 40 minutes of hell style of play.
- The Ags present matchup problems for the Cats. As with most teams we play, Kentucky has to provide sag and help on Kelsey Bone. Kristi Bellock and Courtney Walker can take advantage of the attention paid to Bone. Adrienne Pratcher has scored 10+ in both games against the Cats.
Many of the Ags turnovers in the second game seemed to be more a case of Kentucky getting into their heads than due to the swarming D taking away options. I'm hoping the Ags will be more aggressive about attacking the press and recognizing when the entry to Bone just isn't there. Against Tennessee, Coach Blair talked about running more back door plays for Kristi Bellock; look for that today.
Against the WildCats, bench play will be important to keep the starters from wearing down. In the first two games, Karla Gilbert didn't play much, presumably due to concerns about her ability to keep up with Kentucky's speed. But the Ags started their comeback at Reed with Karla in the game. Although Bone played pretty well despite her knee strain, the injury may still call for more relief in the post, either by subbing in Karla or by playing zone with the twin tower lineup. After yesterday's win, Coach Blair talked about how his bench play reflected the Aggie tradition of the 12th Man. Against USCe, Karla Gilbert stepped up when Bone went out. Yesterday it Tori Scott was called on to stop Taber Spani. Maybe today will bring another hero off the bench. Peyton Little is due to break out of her slump. Jordan Jones could jump into the spotlight on either offense or defense.
The Ags biggest advantage may be that they are in a situation Gary Blair calls "playing with house money". Kentucky will be the favorite, and a loss shouldn't negate the good TAMU has done for our NCAA seeding this weekend.
Key word for this game: poise.
ESPN2 at 5 CDT
Radio: KZNE 1150
Streaming video on ESPN3 is restricted to providers who do WatchESPN, which does not include Suddenlink in B/CS.