Fourth-quarter scoring drought dooms Lady Bulldogs in loss to last-place Auburn
Georgia didn't score in the final 7:16 of regulation. Auburn finished on a 11-0 run.
AUBURN, Ala. (virtually) — With seven-and-a-half minutes remaining in regulation, Jordan Isaacs collected a steal. It set up a play in which Georgia could operate with its strength. Que Morrison found Jenna Staiti in the post for a turnaround layup against Auburn’s Jaila Jordan. Georgia’s lead swelled to six points.
The Lady Bulldogs didn’t score again.
They lost their offensive rhythm. Turnovers mounted. Eleven consecutive shots, some of which were errant, didn’t fall. Georgia (18-8, 7-7 SEC) had brief control slip away and it led to a 65-60 loss to last-place Auburn, which collected its second conference win during a rebuilding effort under first-year head coach Johnnie Harris.
“They were tougher than we were,” head coach Joni Taylor said.
Fourth-quarter scoring droughts aren’t new to Georgia. It has been a trend in nearly half of its losses in league play. The defeats to Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida featured a similar trend in which the Lady Bulldogs had a victory in sight, then couldn’t find any scoring as the final moments ticked away.
Sunday’s loss to the Tigers featured the longest late-game scoring drought. Auburn fed off of its momentum and found an ability to telegraph a handful of Georgia passes which led to transition baskets. Georgia walked out of Auburn Arena with 21 turnovers committed, and Auburn scored 17 points off of those miscues.
Auburn has fallen short in many close SEC games this season, but three of its biggest wins of the 2021-22 campaign have come against top-20 programs — Georgia, Georgia Tech and Tennessee. Harris said the Tigers have exhausted ample effort on finishing games, and they took advantage of an area that has plagued Georgia since the calendar turned to the new year.
“We pressured the ball and helped a little bit more. We didn't let them have easy, direct passes,” Harris said of Auburn’s approach in a postgame press conference with reporters. “We were doing that earlier, because we weren't recovering on the ball screen. It was easy for them to make passes. We started pressuring a bit more, and the passes weren't as crisp which allowed us to get our hands on them. We were flying around in there.”
Georgia’s momentum faded when super senior Jenna Staiti picked up her third foul. She finished with 18 points on the afternoon, but Georgia’s signature high-low offensive approach was denied with Auburn’s offensive pressure.
Georgia got late contributions from Jordan Isaacs, who had seven rebounds and a number of significant defensive plays, but Auburn focused on its double team on Staiti when Javyn Nicholson went to the bench after scoring 11 points and adding four assists.
“They ran us off of screens, and we got denied on the wing and didn't get ourselves open,” Taylor said. “We left our point guard on an island and turned it over. They were absolutely tougher than we were. That is disappointing and embarrassing.”
For Georgia, all hope is not lost. It solidified a place in the NCAA tournament long ago with wins over NC State and Notre Dame, along with a handful of league wins against teams with a NET rating in the top-50. Some concern rests, however, in its tournament position after losing to an Auburn team with a NET of 93.
Entering Sunday’s game, Georgia had a NET ranking of 21. Four of its previous losses came to teams in the projected tournament field, according to ESPN’s Charlie Creme, with only two wins over tournament teams (Ole Miss and Missouri) since Jan. 30.
Creme said that Georgia would drop to a No. 6 seed, “for now,” after dropping its contest to Auburn.
“They don’t have the kind of schedule that other teams they would be competing with for a top-16 spot would have,” Creme said of Georgia to The Lady Bulldogs Report. “There aren’t any bad losses on the resume, but not winning much recently left the team vulnerable to being surpassed.”
Optimism persists within the Georgia locker room. It posted a convincing win over Missouri on Thursday. Strong second-half efforts were takeaways for the Lady Bulldogs to build upon in losses to LSU and top-ranked South Carolina. Georgia showed more offensive consistency earlier in the season which led to its marquee wins in non-conference play.
“As a team, we need to listen to our coaches and do the little things. We have to come together,” Nicholson said. “I still think we haven't had a complete game where everybody is here and we're feeding off of each other's energy.
“When we will be like that, it's going to be very scary. I'm excited to see that coming soon.”
With 17 seconds remaining in regulation, Georgia still had a last gasp to escape with a win over Auburn. The turnover bug bit once again, however, as Sania Wells stole possession from Georgia freshman Reigan Richardson and followed it with consecutive free-throw makes.
As the buzzer sounded, Richardson had a final 3-point attempt that fell short. Georgia fell once more in a game where it had control.
“When we reach these points when we have leads at the end of the game, it's hard when we go through a bit of a scoring drought,” guard Mikayla Coombs said of the trend after Georgia’s loss to Florida, in a statement which still rings true. “We might get shots that we got earlier in the game, then they don't fall. There are only so many times that you can go down, get a stop then get another good shot. Eventually, they're going to capitalize. That's what has been killing us.
“You have to go back in (to practice) and fine tune some things.”