Bulldogs Beat

Where the Lady Bulldogs’ NCAA tournament chances stand after sixth SEC loss

Georgia head coach Joni Taylor talks to her players after a women’s basketball game between the University of Georgia and Mercer University in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. (Photo by Kristin M. Bradshaw)
Georgia head coach Joni Taylor talks to her players after a women’s basketball game between the University of Georgia and Mercer University in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. (Photo by Kristin M. Bradshaw) Special to the Telegraph

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In the midst of Georgia’s losing streak, a team meeting took place prior to a Tuesday practice after falling to Auburn. Each player had an opportunity to voice her frustrations and it became an open conversation on how the Lady Bulldogs could improve and put themselves in postseason contention.

Turns out that meeting lasted about four hours and practice never took place. But this venture had plenty of productivity. Georgia head coach Joni Taylor started it, then senior forward Caliya Robinson took the lead and it was a free-for-all chat between players and coaches from that point on.

Some of the topics included the team’s energy in practice — which has been an ongoing attempt at improvement since the season started in November — and life-related concerns that were bleeding over to the basketball court.

“It was much needed, because a lot of people had stuff building up on their plate,” sophomore forward Jenna Staiti said. “If we say something that comes off the wrong way, we have coaches who will listen to us.”

“We needed to let out some steam,” Robinson said. “What’s our problem and what do we need to do to fix it?”

After that gathering, the immediate result was a 93-58 drubbing of Florida and the Lady Bulldogs felt refreshed-and-ready for the final stretch of conference play. But at 14-10 and 5-6 in the SEC, Georgia’s hole might be too deep in order to return to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year.

Georgia’s slide was defined by finding itself in first-half deficits of double digits and not finishing off the opportunities to beat the upper-echelon teams. After the win over Florida, another chance to boost the Rating Percentage Index (commonly known as RPI, a metric that measures performance, strength of schedule and other factors) swept by after the Lady Bulldogs dropped their seventh road game (despite showing significant improvement with turnovers) to No. 11 South Carolina, 65-57.

“At some point you have to stop hitting yourself over the head with the same brick,” Taylor said. “If you don’t change it, then our season is going to go down the drain. If you change it, then you give yourself a chance to compete in the postseason. It’s that simple. It’s happening in practice, so it’s not a shock when it happens in the game.”

Georgia has five games remaining on its SEC schedule, and the only legitimate opportunity to boost RPI comes against Kentucky (20-5, RPI of 22). All of the other opportunities are gone, and while point guard Taja Cole said “we can’t get those games back,” there were plenty to capitalize on. That was an initiative by Taylor and her staff to schedule a tough non-conference slate (highlighted by trips to UCLA, Villanova and Maryland in Puerto Rico), but no quality victories came as a result.

It’s a far cry from being safely in the NCAA tournament as Georgia was a year ago. The Lady Bulldogs once held aspirations to host as a top-four seed (which came true), but it’s now standing on the outside-looking-in. With the season dwindling, Georgia’s RPI stands at 108 after the loss to the Gamecocks.

Georgia is 0-9 against RPI Top 50 teams. While only having one bad loss (Alabama, RPI of 133), there are other bubble teams who can state a similar claim.

“I would say getting to the bubble is, yes, a long shot, at this point,” ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme told The Telegraph on Wednesday. He added that teams with RPI outside of the top-100 aren’t normally considered. “I would say anything short of winning the SEC tournament and Georgia is likely not going to make the tournament.”

While circled around in their team-wide meeting, Georgia also laid out its preseason goals of returning to the NCAA tournament and how it is in danger of falling short to meet it. There are five conference games and an SEC tournament trip to Greenville, South Carolina looming.

The big-picture scenario is clear-cut.

“We just have to win,” freshman guard Caitlin Hose said.