UGA women earn first SEC win of Joni Taylor era

Head coach Joni Taylor

UGA earned its first SEC win of the season Thursday after defeating No. 20 Florida 71-61 in Gainesville, Fla. Three Bulldogs scored in double figures, as Tiaria Griffin led the way with 23 points, followed respectively by Halle Washington and Pachis Roberts with 17 and 11.

After going down 4-0 in the first quarter, Georgia (13-4, 1-3 SEC) closed out the quarter on a 19-6 run, and balanced gameplay helped the Bulldogs to retain the lead over the Gators (14-3, 2-2 SEC) for the remainder of the game.

“Florida tried to get up and press us and get the ball out of Marjorie (Butler)’s hands,” Georgia coach Joni Taylor said. “Our other players tonight were really good at bringing the ball up the floor and attacking them and getting by their front line and using that to have easy buckets at the rim.”

Here are five observations from the contest:

1. Offense returns

Georgia struggled offensively in its first three SEC games, but things turned around for the Bulldogs Thursday. Georgia outscored the Gators 19-10 in the first quarter, shooting 53.3 percent from the field.

The Bulldogs stopped a 7-0 run by Florida in the second quarter, outscoring them 14-12 and taking an 11-point lead into halftime. The third quarter proved to be Georgia’s best as it went up by as much as 21 points. A late comeback put the Gators back within five points with 27 seconds left to go in the fourth, but five  Griffin free throws helped seal the victory.

“To start the fourth, I thought they had more sense of urgency than we did,” Taylor said. “They went and got some offensive rebounds, and we didn’t do a good job of boxing out. Once we got that plugged and stopped fouling them, we were good.”

2. Back to defense

Georgia also got back to playing the stifling defense it has been known for this season. The Bulldogs held Florida to 29.7 percent shooting in the first quarter, with the Gators missing 12 of their 17 field goals.

The Gators ended the game shooting 33.8 percent, almost even with the 33.3 percent the Bulldogs have held opponents to on the season Carlie Needles, who won SEC Player of the Week this past week, ended the game with just two points.

3. Sharing the ball

The Bulldogs had a balanced scoring effort Thursday. In addition to the three Bulldogs in double figures, Butler added seven points of her own. Georgia also scored 23 points off the bench.

Senior Shacobia Barbee had a great night on the boards, tallying 10 rebounds to go along with four assists.

“Considering the combination we had, I was really proud,” Taylor said. “They kept their composure, and everybody contributed tonight.”

4. Getting to the line

Free throws were a key component in Georgia’s win against the Gators. The Bulldogs got to the line 23 times, making 65.2 percent of their attempts. Griffin went 8-for-10 from the stripe, all of which came in the final 41 seconds of the game.

“We worked on that all week in practice, getting to the free throw line, taking advantage of opportunities to get free points,” Taylor said. “We should’ve made more than we did, but to go 23 times is something that we focused on.”

5. Washington’s best

Coming off a great offensive effort against Kentucky, Halle Washington had her best game against the Gators, scoring a career-best 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting. The junior also added seven rebounds and two blocks.

“That’s a kid who was No. 19 in the country when we found her as a senior,” Taylor said of Washington. “She’s taken these first two years to kind of push herself and go harder, and hopefully the lightbulb has clicked for her, because when she plays the way she does tonight, she’s hard to guard.”

The Bulldogs will head to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama on Sunday at 5 p.m.

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