Malury Bates' two-game surge fueled by motivation to leave mark at Georgia
The fifth-year senior had a highlight reel block and two double-digit scoring performances against Vanderbilt and Florida.
ATHENS, Ga. — A calming voice in Malury Bates’ head walks her through a sequence in the chaotic, fast-paced game of basketball. The subtle reminder slows everything down, even for a brief moment.
Five seconds remained in Sunday’s first quarter, and Georgia needed an early spark after rival Florida opened the game on a run. In a designed half-court set, Gators’ guard Jeriah Warren found Jordyn Merritt for a top-of-the-key 3-point shot. Bates was late on the closeout.
“Mal,” Bates told herself. “You gotta contest it.”
She scurried to the shooter and met the shot at its apex. Before the basketball left Merritt’s hand, Bates swatted it and it flew through mid-air. She raced to gain possession of her powerful block.
The clock ticked. She had to beat the rapidly-approaching buzzer and Zippy Broughton chasing after her to turn the highlight into the tangible benefit, points on the scoreboard.
“Mal,” the voice returned. “Take your time in finish.”
She neared the rim and finished the layup without any issue. The crowd erupted in amazement, and so did the Lady Bulldogs’ bench. Bates chest bumped sophomore guard Sarah Ashlee Barker, but little did she know an elated mob would follow.
“That block and finish had me shook,” guard Mikayla Coombs said with a laugh. “I was lit. The whole bench went onto the court. I’m surprised we didn’t get a (technical foul) or something.”
“I missed the block,” Georgia head coach Joni Taylor said with a smile. “I was talking, but turned around and saw her go coast-to-coast with it. I heard the impact of it.”
One of the most-exhilarating highlight plays of Georgia’s season served as the catalyst for Bates. She finished with 13 points, three rebounds and two blocks in a game where her 25 minutes of action fell one short of a season-high against LSU to open conference play. Bates’ performance brightened the day in the Lady Bulldogs’ (17-5, 6-4 SEC) narrow 54-51 loss to Florida which salvaged a season series split.
Her stellar afternoon also continued a two-game surge that is becoming a staple of a five-year Georgia career filled with injuries, development and tribulations. Days prior, in the win over Vanderbilt, Bates had the “best floor game” of her tenure, according to Taylor, with 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks.
Bates, since her arrival in Athens, has been a team-first player in every situation imaginable. She knows, however, that her time at Georgia is nearing an end (unless, of course, she chooses to exercise the extra season of eligibility and return in November) and the kid from Roanoke, Va. had a statement to make before her potential farewell.
“Malury has always had the potential,” Taylor said. “Her decision-making over the past two games, to me, has been what has carried her over the top. It's a tribute to her as a fifth-year senior who has gone through a lot. She shows up everyday to do whatever she can to help our team. For her to have the games she has had, I'm really proud of her.”
A surge that is career-defining for Bates has hinted itself in flashes throughout the season. Five blocks against Alabama State were followed by an integral 12 points and seven rebounds in a sun-filled 25-point rout of Marquette in Daytona Beach, Fla. Bates felt confident in her game in that moment. She told The Lady Bulldogs Report that the game had slowed down enough — after a gradual progression — to the point where Bates could “direct some things” and help others if the offense got overly chaotic.
At the beginning of SEC play, Georgia’s veteran anchor Jenna Staiti missed games against LSU and Florida (the first time on Jan. 2) after entering health and safety protocols. Bates earned her first starts since the NCAA tournament-opening win against Drexel, and answered that call with 13 points and six rebounds in a four-point win in Gainesville, Fla.
Two weeks before Bates’ most-recent surge, she corralled nine rebounds in 21 minutes of play as the Lady Bulldogs rallied to hold on at Mississippi State.
“Mal is a great teammate and one of my best friends on the team,” Coombs said. “It makes me super happy to see her thriving right now. She's worked so hard for this with all of her work in the gym and outside prayer to get closer to God and prepare herself for this moment.”
Bates spends a lot of extra time in the practice gym. You could use the term “gym rat,” but let’s avoid the clichés here. For example, Georgia’s NCAA tournament exit to Oregon in San Antonio fell on a Wednesday. Bates suited up for individual work on the hardwood by the following Monday. Her desires stem from inner motivation, which in turn, led to a slower in-game pace and other progressions.
Over recent months, however, Bates needed to dig deeper. She needed to realize why she has continued to play basketball and have that goal of succeeding as a Lady Bulldog.
That has rested in her faith, which has fueled the desire for more contribution.
“God is my strength,” Bates said. “Everything else can waver, but He is stable.”
Some of Bates’ performances might’ve frustrated her. Not because she cares about a stat line, but because she believes she could’ve been more beneficial to her team. She had to realize that she might not have the star-studded performances of Staiti or Que Morrison.
She has found her niche, though, in providing a spark to the post players alongside junior Javyn Nicholson. Her performances against Vanderbilt and Florida are more than a blip, but can show what’s to come.
“I wanted to be a better player,” Bates said. “I wanted to impact the game as much as possible. I wanted to leave something here after my long five years (at Georgia). I want to give my all.”
The game of basketball is one filled with decisions. Bad ones, like turnovers, may come. Good ones will usually follow. That gentle, subtle reminder running through Bates’ mind led to not only a highlight but some of her brightest moments as a Lady Bulldog.
If those good decisions continue, Georgia will reward it with more opportunity and allow Bates to further help her team. That has been her main goal since stepping on campus as a freshman, after all.
“She played well so she stayed on the floor today. It's pretty simple,” Taylor said. “Whoever plays well gets to stay out there. They decide that, not us.”