A glimpse inside Mikayla Coombs' mind as she energized Georgia to victory over Texas A&M
Coombs seemingly suffered a serious injury in the second quarter. She returned in the second half, finished with a career-high 14 points and was a key reason for Georgia's toppling of Texas A&M.
GREENVILLE, S.C. — Mikayla Coombs broke free for a layup. She had an open path to the basket aside from Texas A&M guard Destiny Pitts. Coombs neared the rim and inadvertently stepped on Pitts’ foot.
The missed shot meant nothing in that moment. Coombs landed awkwardly when hitting the hardwood and she laid on the ground in excruciating ankle pain.
Georgia’s junior guard knows when she feels discomfort. She suffered a torn ACL at UConn and is currently playing through a torn labrum in her hip and opted not to undergo surgery. She has shown toughness, so it’s concerning when Coombs shows any semblance of agony.
“It scared me to death,” head coach Joni Taylor said of the moment where she knelt down in a pair of heels to comfort her player.
Coombs cried. She thought it was serious. A bit of shock set in.
“I’m not much of a crier,” Coombs said. “So I’m kind of disappointed in myself for that.”
Ten minutes of game time later, Coombs returned to the game with a sprained ankle. She might’ve gained either fuel, rocket speed or basketball superpowers, because Coombs finished with a career-high 14 points and 12 of them came after the injury. She’s arguably the reason why Georgia (20-5, 12-5 SEC) beat top-seeded Texas A&M, 74-68, to advance to its first SEC tournament championship game since 2004.
Her determination to become the spark that led Georgia to victory, however, started a matter of moments after her ankle collapsed.
Coombs had x-rays and treatment with associate athletic trainer Stacey Kisil, strength-and-conditioning director Joshua Rucci and team physician Fred Reifsteck. Coombs stopped caring about her ankle.
“Please, give me an update on the game,” Coombs asked while getting her ankle taped.
“Focus on your ankle,” they responded.
She obliged, at least for a moment. She returned to her team at the halftime intermission and asked for the score, which was 35-32. Georgia opened Saturday’s game with a 12-point lead at the end of the first quarter. The Aggies made adjustments, and the Lady Bulldogs went into a cold snap by shooting 20 percent in the second quarter and being outscored 22-7.
Coombs observed for a few moments in the third quarter, and knew Georgia needed energy. She wanted to be that piece to help the Lady Bulldogs on each end and provide a spark.
Coombs wasn’t sure whether Taylor would make the call or take the cautious route due to the injury. Once Coombs got the nod, she turned into the difference-maker for the Lady Bulldogs to get over the hump and beat the second-ranked Aggies.
She entered with 4:28 in the third quarter. Sixteen seconds later, sophomore forward Javyn Nicholson found Coombs on an open cut to the rim. She converted and the surge began.
“I didn’t really feel it,” Coombs said of her ankle. “Once we got going, I was trying to win at that point. It was the least of my worries.”
Coombs’ buckets came in bunches. She did it again 55 seconds after the previous third-quarter bucket. Senior Jenna Staiti got a steal and Coombs stood on the perimeter to facilitate. Nicholson set a screen and Coombs sliced through an open lane.
She had layups in succession again in the fourth quarter as three makes came within three-and-a-half minutes in the fourth quarter and it allowed Georgia’s lead to swell again.
“We needed Mikayla tonight,” said Maya Caldwell, who dropped a game-high 19 points. “I’m very grateful we had her.”
Coombs’ spurt comes after a lull in production in SEC play. She caught the attention of many through non-conference play with her ability to provide energy and rack up the points, assists and steals in the final stat line. She combined for nine points over a four-game stretch in February, and she saw the slightest decrease in minutes due to a streak of good play from Gabby Connally.
Georgia has trusted Coombs from the jump. They view the UConn transfer as a vital piece to their success. Saturday’s performance had been waiting in the queue for a while, and it came to the Lady Bulldogs as good fortune to power them to another historic feat in a season laden with them.
“Mikayla is invaluable to this team, and I think she knows that,” Connally said. “We need her for everything she does.”
Late in the fourth quarter, Coombs capped the victory off. The Lady Bulldogs led by eight, and Texas A&M ran a smothering press defense. Coombs got loose, and she turned into the wide receiver on a fly route for Caldwell.
The easy basket iced it, and as you might expect, Coombs had the final touches as if it were a movie script.
“We extended our lead and it started to click. We said, ‘This can really happen. We're about to go to the SEC championship,’” Coombs said. “That fueled me. I wanted us to get the win in any possible way, and it was never really about me.”
After the final buzzer sounded, Georgia had a moment to soak it in and celebrate the moment. It wasn’t going to shy away from the fact that it was a big deal to return to the title game for the first time in 17 years.
But if Coombs doesn’t come back into the game with her eruption, would the Lady Bulldogs have pulled it out?
“Absolutely not,” Taylor said, who gets to spend her 42nd birthday in the coaches’ box. “No. Not at all.”