Georgia’s defense got stuck in traffic on I-85 and arrived at Bon Secours Wellness Arena too late.
Taja Cole tried, tried and tried again throughout the last quarter-and-a-half of regulation. She had a rhythm from the field and gave Georgia some long awaited offensive life. She had 17 points and was sparking the Lady Bulldogs on one of its few runs. Once Georgia made a shot, however, Arkansas would sprint down and make one of its own.
“I think when you’re down, you never give up fighting,” said senior forward Cal Robinson said. “At every point in time, we knew we could get back. It was, how do we do that? We didn’t take control of the ways we did make our runs.”
But Georgia had too big of a deficit to where a run wouldn’t have been enough. Really though, was there an accident near Hart County? Georgia’s (18-12) faltering defense led to its demise in a 86-76 loss to Arkansas. The third bout between the two teams went in the Razorbacks favor, and the Lady Bulldogs bow out of the SEC Tournament after one game — one that had hopes of a deep run.
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“We talked about how good they are, what we were worried about happening happened,” Georgia head coach Joni Taylor said. “They made a lot of shots and they were able to score in transition.”
In the first half, a 4-0 spurt to open the game on consecutive baskets by Caliya Robinson and Maya Caldwell was the lone glimpse of early optimism for the Lady Bulldogs. From then on, it was a Razorback onslaught as Arkansas converted shots at-will.
Arkansas entered the halftime intermission with a 60-percent shooting mark and much of its 48-point output was led by Chelsea Dungee. Jailyn Mason followed Dungee with her 3-point prowess as she recorded 12 points from behind-the-arc. She had consecutive makes in the opening quarter to give the Razorbacks some distance.
Entering the tournament, Dungee took to Twitter to voice her displeasure with not being named to All-SEC First-Team by the Associated Press and coaches. When she had her chance against Georgia, her chatter was backed up by her performance.
“I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder,” Dungee said, who transferred to Arkansas from Oklahoma. “I just wanted to go out and play the best that I could, show everyone what I can do.”
Dungee finished with 31 points, and had 15 at the break. Georgia tried to guard her with the quickness of Taja Cole, but it was to no avail. After the first period, head coach Joni Taylor saw need for defensive change in transition and switched the assignment to post players. That wasn’t working either, and Dungee was having fun tearing the Lady Bulldogs apart. Her final make of the half was an and-1 opportunity, and that was finished by Dungee staring down Caitlin Hose with a bit of sass to complement.
“I tried to turn that chip into a boulder,” said Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors, who believed Arkansas would’ve played in the opening round and headed home in the SEC Tournament if Dungee wasn’t on the roster. “I built it up. I’m not going to tell you I didn’t. I used it to our advantage.”
From the first half, the Razorbacks’ offense didn’t dwindle much. Arkansas finished shooting 56.1 percent and a season-high 43.8 percent mark from the 3-point line.
Georgia’s offense, which can be stagnant at times, wasn’t enough to keep up with the high-powered Arkansas attack. Georgia shot 15 percent (2 of 13) from the 3-point line and 1 of 4 from the 3-point line. Caliya Robinson and Que Morrison sat for extended periods due to having two fouls, and the Lady Bulldogs tried to insert freshmen Kaila Hubbard and Hose (first game since Feb. 18) for a source of offensive resurgence. That didn’t lead to any consistent runs.
Robinson led Georgia with 19 points, and Stephanie Paul followed with 11 with some ferocious rebounds to go along with her scoring efforts. Arkansas’ five double-digit scorers and the other-worldly showing from Dungee was too much.
“It seemed like everything they took went in,” Cole said. “It was just one of those nights. We tried offensively.”
Georgia will await the NCAA Tournament selection show on March 16 and hope. But the Lady Bulldogs, with 12 losses and an RPI hovering around 100, aren’t in the discussion for an at-large bid. Georgia would likely receive a Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) bid, but Taylor said Thursday night it would not be accepted.
“We come to Georgia to play in the NCAA Tournament,” she said.