Nov. 21: Lady Bulldogs joined by Georgia great Bubba Watson to finish rout of Alabama State
Georgia had a special guest in a non-conference game against Alabama State.
ATHENS, Ga. — A tad under four minutes remained in regulation as Georgia put the finishing touches on a runaway victory over Alabama State, and the Lady Bulldogs called a timeout to make a final series of mass substitutions.
Head coach Joni Taylor had a plan for her stoppage in play. She wanted to give more minutes to freshmen reserves Kimmie Jenkins and Alina Sendar, and four newcomers would finish the game around experienced senior Malury Bates in the frontcourt.
But the timeout didn't come from Taylor, any of her assistants or any of her players sporting the white threads. A man sitting behind Taylor on Georgia's bench emerged and stepped onto the sideline. Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson added another chapter to his résumé as he looked toward the referee and scorer's table while making the motion for a timeout.
"It kind of just happened," Taylor said postgame. "I said 'Hey, come on, get up here!' He was probably shocked I called him up there."
Watson walked around the team's bench for a moment while making comments as Jenkins, Jenna Staiti and others formed a huddle while Taylor and her assistants watched on with some smiles and laughs.
The former Georgia golfer tried to pull off his best coach's impersonation in a spur-of-the-moment situation. His wife, former Lady Bulldog Angie Ball, might've given some pointers, too, but Watson was no rookie. Taylor, in her days as an assistant under Andy Landers from 2011-15, remembered Watson taking on a so-called "guest coach" role at times when he'd visit Athens for basketball festivities. Much like he did on Sunday, Watson called a timeout and offered some words of wisdom to the Lady Bulldogs.
"It was funny to see how the coaches were rolling and cracking up with it," said junior Javyn Nicholson, who recorded her second double-double in four games with 13 points and 13 rebounds. "He didn't really know what to say, but he was just talking to us. It was cool for coach Joni to step back for a fun moment after a win."
A few moments after his arrival to the Lady Bulldogs' bench, Alabama State called a timeout. Georgia setup its usual huddle of chairs on the sideline, and all of the Lady Bulldogs took their seats. The leader's seat in the middle of the circle remained unoccupied for a moment. All of the coaches stood back while strength-and-conditioning coordinator Joshua Rucci stood behind the empty seat awaiting someone to fill it.
Naturally, Watson sat down. A five-minute self-orchestrated skit where Watson played the role of a seven-year head coach into a memory for the Watson family, the Georgia coaches, players and those on hand inside Stegeman Coliseum.
Taylor felt comfortable in a would-be 73-43 win over the SWAC foe to sit in the background while Watson had some fun moments with the players.
"He's got a great energy," Taylor said. "You watch his career and how he impacts people, and you want excellence around your team."
Watson's on-court moment capped off a sports-filled weekend for his family through the one-mile stretch ranging from Sanford Drive to Smith Street. He visited Stegeman Coliseum for the men's basketball rivalry loss to Georgia Tech. Watson observed the top-ranked football program's win over Charleston Southern between the hedges, and engaged in harmless fun there, too, as he stepped into a television live shot with SEC Network's Tiffany Blackmon and Atlanta Braves' World Series champion manager Brian Snitker.
His trip to Athens had the purpose of a signing for his new book, Up & Down: Victories and Struggles in the Course of Life, at the university bookstore on Sunday afternoon. Before that endeavor, however, his original visit to the Lady Bulldogs came at morning shootaround.
Ball, a member of the SEC champion and 2000 NCAA Final Four team who later played for the WNBA's Charlotte Sting, spoke to Taylor's group alongside former Lady Bulldog Katie Frye. Watson watched his wife speak, introduced himself to the players and prayed for the team in a moment that Taylor called "powerful and dynamic."
Some meaningful pictures were taken, too. Staiti remembers Watson's appearances at Augusta National Golf Club over the years. Staiti's father, Jim Staiti, would watch the Masters Tournament as a yearly tradition. Jim made sure his daughter knew how the former Bulldog golfer had been performing.
Staiti, remembering such a moment, asked Watson for a photo and sent it to her father.
"No way!" Jim said, as Jenna recalled.
"Everybody getting to see (the photo) was funny," Staiti said. "It got a lot of reaction."
Taylor, throughout her coaching career, has been a big advocate of motivational speakers and using outside sources to help build certain qualities within her basketball program. Watson, his wife Angie, and her fellow Lady Bulldog teammate were chosen Sunday as Georgia finished out a four-game homestand to open up the campaign.
It's a bit unusual, however, for a guest to step into the huddle. The famed golfer stepped alongside the referee, however, and created what might've been a career highlight.
"It was funny and so great," Staiti said.