No. 7 Kentucky outscored No. 12 Georgia 41-14 in the second half en route to a 60-38 win over the Lady Bulldogs in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament at the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Saturday evening.
Georgia led 27-20 following a Jasmine Hassell layup to open the second half scoring, but watched as a 15-0 Kentucky surge more than erased that advantage.
Hassell led Georgia (25-6) with 17 points and nine rebounds. DeNeesha Stallworth’s game-high 18 points paced Kentucky (27-4)
“We expected full-court defense. We got that,” head coach Andy Landers said. ‘We expected good man-to-man defense. We got that. Kentucky did a very good job with those things. Defensively, I thought the first half we were where we wanted to be. They probably got what they expected. But the second half, obviously, was disappointing. It started on the offensive end with turnovers, which led to some transitions and quick loss of possession. We were on defense. Bam, we give up a three. We’re on defense again and we give up another three. All of sudden, you look up and it seemed like in three or four trips the leads gone and I think we’re down by six. From there, we strayed from where we wanted to be defensively. We strayed from where we were in the first half defensively and we paid for it. From that point on, it wasn’t a lot of fun.”
In the first half, Kentucky used a 9-0 run covering a span of 3:39 to gain the game’s first meaningful lead, a 12-5 edge with 11:26 left in the half. Krista Donald ended the surge with a putback at the 10:57 mark.
Though the Lady Bulldogs didn’t hit another field goal for the next 6:57, four free throws from Hassell helped Georgia cut the margin to 14-11. Back-to-back buckets by Hassell, followed by a three from Khaalidah Miller, put the Lady Bulldogs up 18-16.
Georgia scored the final four points of the half on a Jasmine James layup and two free throws from Marjorie Butler to gain its largest lead of the period, 24-19, at the intermission. A day after scoring 11 first-half points against LSU, Hassell put up 13 in the opening 20 minutes against the Wildcats by connecting on 4-of-6 shots from the floor and converting 5-of-6 trips to the line.
Hassell opened the second-half scoring before Jennifer O’Neill scored five points in a 7-0 run covering 1:52 that tied the score at 26-26 and forced a Georgia timeout.
Kentucky’s run eventually supplied a 34-26 lead before James banked in a free throw line jumper with 13:58 remaining. The Lady Bulldogs were within 45-36 with 7:33 left but the Wildcats closed out the contest on a 15-2 surge.
Georgia will now await an at-large bid the NCAA Tournament. The bracket will be announced a week from Monday, on March 18, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. The Lady Bulldogs have received invitations to 30 of the 32 editions of “March Madness” administered by the NCAA, the second most of any school in the nation. Georgia’s NCAA résumé features 19 “Sweet 16″ appearances, 10 “Elite Eight” advancements, five Final Fours and a pair of NCAA runner-up finishes.