Dec. 3: What we learned about the Lady Bulldogs in win at Texas Tech
Lady Bulldogs notched a Power 5 non-conference road win over the Red Raiders.
** For more coverage, I wrote a longform feature for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Chloe Chapman and her strides after deciding to become a full-time basketball player.
LUBBOCK, Tex. (virtually) — In the underbelly of United Supermarkets Arena, Georgia head coach Joni Taylor sat down on some leather furniture to sit in front of a computer and discuss her team's latest test. She started to speak, and her voice became a bit raspy. She took a drink of Sprite in an effort to quickly recover. She probably resembled the state of her team after pulling out a victory nearly 1,000 miles from home.
Strained. Tired. Worked. Relieved.
Yet again, the Lady Bulldogs didn't have it easy in a showdown with Texas Tech, an improved team that added some reinforcements after players returned from injury. Georgia found itself in an immediate hole, trailing by nine to open the contest and taking some time to whittle it below a seven-point deficit.
Georgia, much like it showed a week prior over Notre Dame, prevailed through adverse moments with its more-than-sturdy defensive foundation. The Lady Bulldogs pulled out a 66-56 win on the road to win their second-consecutive game in the Big 12-SEC challenge by overcoming numerous deficits.
"In years past, we would've gotten rushed or everybody would've tried to do it themselves," Taylor said. "We stayed the course and kept trying to get the right shots."
"We all trust each other," sophomore guard Sarah Ashlee Barker said. "We all knew we would get back into this thing."
Georgia has already proven in the season's early stages that it doesn't get rattled. A second quarter in which it only allowed seven points (Georgia has yet to allow more than 10 points in the second period of any game this season) put its smothering defense on display. The Lady Bulldogs turned 21 turnovers into opportunities by scoring 26 points off of those miscues.
Georgia needed every bit of its elite defensive production, too. The visitors in red-and-black didn't look pretty from the field. A 40% mark from the field made it plenty difficult for the Lady Bulldogs, but second-half adjustments allowed for separation and the record to improve to 7-0. Georgia has won 16 of its last 19 games dating back to last season.
"We needed this test," Taylor said. "This was a really good win on the road and in a tough environment."
That brings us to "The Buzzer." An occasional postgame dispatch that will break down the intricacies of Georgia's performance. We'll look at three factors that led to Georgia's win over the Lady Raiders and how it can apply the growth through future games. Even though Taylor's group only has seven games under its belt, there's plenty to take away that proves crucial as SEC play draws closer.
Let's dig in.
Hollingshead is a real post threat
Freshman Jillian Hollingshead played 10 minutes against Texas Tech. Eight of them came in the fourth quarter. Taylor put in her first-year weapon a couple of minutes into the final period of play and didn't let her sit until after the final buzzer.
Hollingshead, a former McDonald's All-American, is already proving her worth in that No. 53 uniform. Her final minutes in Lubbock were a significant reason why Georgia pulled out the victory.
She converted an and-1 opportunity on one of her first possessions in the fourth quarter. After hitting the free throw, Hollingshead came down with a crucial rebound. She finished with six points, three rebounds and an assist with a plus-minus of +10.
"She comes in and you wouldn't know she's a freshman," Barker said. "She gives us energy and she wants to go get that rebound. She plays hard, knows the game well and isn't afraid to step up to the challenge."
Hollingshead has come to life since Georgia made its trip to Daytona Beach for the Thanksgiving showcase. She stood out against Notre Dame, especially late, and had the opportunity to shine in a dominant win over Marquette.
In the preseason, Taylor likened Hollingshead to the likes of former Georgia great LaKeisha Frett. In a modern comparison, she's got the talents of a Candace Parker-like player, Taylor said, while reassuring there are plenty of strides needed in order to reach such a lofty point.
Hollingshead can do it all offensively: Post up, shoot the jumper, rebound and cause plenty of problems with a 6-foot-5 frame.
"Her skill set is unbelievable," Taylor said.
Georgia admitted that it is trying to find more minutes with Hollingshead and Jenna Staiti paired together. Junior Jordan Isaacs currently earns starting minutes due to her defensive abilities, but hasn't been much of an offensive threat while averaging 1.9 points per game through seven contests.
Taylor, naturally with a defense-first approach, needs to see more strides from Hollingshead in order to trust her with that load. Georgia knows that the "four" position is the "money spot," as Taylor called it, with talents like Mississippi State's Rickea Jackson taking the role in conference play.
But make no mistake. Hollingshead's offensive capabilities have already given Georgia another offensive dynamic that other post pairings have yet to do.
"I'm so excited for Jillian and her future here," Staiti said. "It makes it easier on me to play with her, because people have to guard her. You have to respect her jump shot."
Bettering the half-court offense
Texas Tech jumped out to a 9-0 lead. Georgia didn't make a basket until the six-minute mark of the first quarter as a Malury Bates layup snapped a four-minute skid without a point.
Texas Tech took a lead on Georgia in the same fashion Notre Dame did — starting the game with a zone. It's a problem that Georgia has faced over recent seasons, which makes sense given that the Lady Bulldogs love to run in transition and focus plenty of time on that area of the offensive game.
But in this instance, Georgia got stagnant. Texas Tech won't be the last team to play Georgia in a zone.
"We need to be more aggressive. We see zone and just freeze," Taylor said. "We stand and pass it around the perimeter. We have to attack."
Georgia has found itself standing around in a half-court set on more occasion than one. It lacks flow at times, and takes time to find a resolution.
The Lady Bulldogs went into the halftime locker room and found ways to beat Texas Tech's zone. Georgia gained a grasp on where defenders would be, and moved players around into positions that counteracted the defensive approach. It allowed for 1-on-1 matchups inside with Staiti, Hollingshead and Bates.
Georgia has faced offensive lulls, and would like to see improvements through the latter half of non-conference play. Luckily, team resolve has allowed it to overcome two tests with zone schemes.
"We got settled in," Barker said. "It didn't rattle us."
Finding the 3-pointer (at least a little bit)
The third quarter's final seconds dwindled. Que Morrison stood atop the key while Georgia found itself in the heat of a back-and-forth battle with Texas Tech. Neither team could gain much of a cushion, but one shot could change it.
Morrison, Georgia's heartbeat who does a plethora of things that leads to elite play, hadn't been efficient. She couldn't find much of a rhythm with her shooting touch, but it didn't faze the super senior who tries to maximize every opportunity.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Swish.
Morrison nailed a 3-pointer with four seconds left in the third period. It built a four-point lead for Georgia that it didn't relinquish, so the shot proved crucial. Morrison looked to the bench, flexed her arms in excitement and the rest of her teammates erupted.
"She's a playmaker. Que wants to win as much as anybody does," Taylor said. "She's a competitor who wants to win. She makes big shots. That's what she does."
"I can't say enough about the passion she brings to our team and how everybody feeds off of it."
Morrison didn't come off of the floor Thursday. She logged all 40 minutes. While shooting an inefficient 6-for-17, Morrison led the team with 20 points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals.
Morrison's 3-pointer not only proved big in the Texas Tech game, but gives Georgia a bit of confidence. The Lady Bulldogs aren't a great 3-point shooting team. They never have been, and it's not the No. 1 priority by Taylor. They do have some shooters, though, and they came to life.
Morrison added another significant 3-pointer late in the third quarter. Barker, who continues to search for a consistent stroke, added two to the tally. Georgia finished 4-for-14 (29%) from deep, but some crucial makes could result in an uptick in numbers as games progress.
"It helps a lot," Barker said of the 3-pointer. "You want to be able to score at all three levels of the floor. It got us going. That's an extra point for us."