'Her show': The anatomy of Gabby Connally's magic moment to beat Arkansas

The senior hit the game-clinching shot on Monday night to win an SEC thriller.

Georgia guard Gabby Connally (2) celebrates with teammates during a game against Arkansas at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Monday, January 25, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh — UGA Sports Communications)

ATHENS, Ga. — A sparse grouping of boisterous fans perched within Section M of Stegeman Coliseum made it feel like a sellout crowd on Monday evening. They barked at every call, roared after every basket and sat through every anxious moment.

Once the final buzzer sounded, the supposed die-hards wanted acknowledgment from Georgia’s star. Gabby Connally, the senior guard, took a few moments around the court to soak in the victorious atmosphere. Each of her teammates wanted to grab Connally’s attention. She walked off of the floor alongside Jenna Staiti and Sarah Ashlee Barker. Connally looked up and heard squeaky cheers and a few chants of “GABBY! GABBY!”

She smiled in elation, waved to her supporters and capped off the celebratory antics in a thrilling 75-73 win over a ranked Arkansas team. Georgia (13-2, 5-2 SEC) pulled off another down-to-the-wire victory.

“It makes me feel really good,” Connally said. “I’m living in the moment.”

Everyone in the arena fixated on the one who goes by ‘2.’ A few moments prior, Connally hit the game-clinching shot with less than one second remaining. It marked not only one of the Lady Bulldogs’ defining moments of the season, but a classic-like moment that could be etched in program lore.

The magic began when Jordan Isaacs rebounded a miss from Arkansas guard Jailyn Mason. Thirty-eight seconds remained on the clock. Georgia had a 10-second differential from the game clock and shot clock, so it didn’t seem like it would get the final chance. The Lady Bulldogs ran a half-court set to kill some time, and Que Morrison missed a 3-point shot.

Isaacs sailed in — despite being undercut by Arkansas’ Destiny Slocum — for an offensive rebound.

“We played good initial defense,” Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors said. “We gave up that offensive rebound, and were hoping to get that thing back (in a tie game).”

Isaacs passed to Mikayla Coombs, who immediately dished to Connally. She immediately looked to her right. The floor general expected her head coach Joni Taylor to call a timeout. Georgia had four.

Four seniors led Georgia to a fourth-quarter comeback, however, and Taylor wanted to let it ride. There were no thoughts of stopping play and allowing the Razorbacks to craft another defensive scheme.

“It was going to be her show. We were going to live and die by that,” Taylor said. “You get out of the way and let players make plays.”

Connally didn’t see any movement, so she looked back toward the basket. The clock continued to tick and Connally stepped inside the 3-point line with Makayla Daniels draped on her in coverage.

“I do not want to admit this, because coach Joni is sitting right here, but I was not aware how much time was on the clock initially,” Connally said. “I had to do something.”

Connally made a move. She did it hundreds of times on the practice floor and even felt comfortable in the moment. From the moment Connally stepped on campus in 2017, Georgia has trusted the 5-foot-6 point guard with clutch shots — a 37-point game as a freshman to prove it probably didn’t hurt.

It wasn’t her first rodeo, but the other attempts didn’t fall through. Connally created separation from Daniels and met the realization that the buzzer was about to sound. Connally’s eyes got big. She locked in on the net and fired away.

This was different. Her game-winning shot fell through.

“I shoot with confidence. I created enough space for me to get it off,” said Connally, the 1,000-point scorer who has had a handful of standout games. “I just shot it.”

Georgia’s bench went wild, and a socially-distant seating arrangement turned into a mob. Each of the Lady Bulldogs’ reserves leaped in midair and yelped. The five players on the court met Connally as she pedaled backward. Morrison, her longtime roommate, lifted Connally into the air for a warm hug. Isaacs, Coombs and others joined in.

Those raucous fans erupted as the Georgia fight song blared over the Stegeman Coliseum loudspeakers.

“I’m not surprised. I knew as soon as she shot it that it would go in,” Staiti said. “It's Gabby. It's expected.”

Meanwhile, 0.9 seconds still remained on the clock.

Neighbors called a timeout. Taylor didn’t immediately realize it, and the celebrations were still alive. She started to yell “GET BACK! GET BACK!” to her players. She had a memory of a team faking a timeout, throwing a full-court inbounds pass and scoring. Georgia couldn’t let that happen again.

A moment to calm down probably served to Georgia’s favor. Taylor never wavered as the final buzzer didn’t yet sound. The Lady Bulldogs drew up a defensive play, and Taylor didn’t take Neighbors’ coaching genius lightly.

“It might not seem like a long time,” Taylor said. “When it’s Mike Neighbors drawing up the play, it’s a hell of a long time.”

“It doesn't give you much time as we've learned. It pretty much has to be a tip,” said Neighbors, who also dropped a last-second game to Texas A&M. “We got a good play drawn up.”

Arkansas found Marquesha Davis open on the backside. Her shot hit rim, but missed. Connally, as you probably could’ve guessed, hauled in the final rebound as the buzzer sounded. She held the ball for a split second, then slammed it onto the hardwood. No. 2 started to sprint.

Now, the celebration could truly commence.

They mobbed her again. Connally dove into a group hug with Coombs, Barker and Morrison. She exchanged a embrace and some words with assistant coach Robert Mosley. The smiles and laughs, for a player who is stoic on the court and likes to crack jokes away from it, couldn’t be contained.

Connally’s magic moment came to give Georgia a top-25 win. It’s only the second in her lifetime, in fact. She hadn’t gotten to experience such a thrill since her younger days as a high-schooler at Brandeis in San Antonio, Texas.

“This is a testament to our coaches, because they have so much belief in me,” Connally said. “A lot of times at the end of games, they put the ball in my hands. In previous years, I haven't hit it. They still continue to trust me. It feels really good to play for a coaching staff that still believes in me.”

Georgia guard Gabby Connally (2) during a game against Arkansas at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Monday, January 25, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh — UGA Sports Communications)

Connally hasn’t been the most consistent for Georgia this season. She might be the first to admit it, too. Connally is a critic of her own game and can get displeased fairly quickly. She has had highlights in the scoring column this season, like 29 against Oklahoma and 17 in the ferocious comeback at Tennessee.

There have been some duds, too, in the scoring column. Connally didn’t have her shooting touch against South Carolina and in a stretch of three-consecutive SEC games. But those games when Connally finds the basket, a spark develops in the senior’s eyes. It leads to nights like Monday where she scores six of the team’s last eight points and shoots 4-for-5 in the fourth quarter.

Her clutch shots led Georgia to a comeback after it trailed Arkansas by seven in the fourth quarter. The Lady Bulldogs had some sloppy play, namely 19 turnovers, but hung in contention. It took valuing possessions, forcing the Razorbacks into a field goal drought and finding their hero — No. 2.

“We’re going to talk about this game for a long time,” Taylor said in a postgame radio interview with Jeff Dantzler that played over the arena’s public address system.

Those moments define Connally’s influence as Georgia’s backcourt leader.

“I told Gabby recently, ‘You need to be more aggressive,’” her father, Milton Connally said, in a quick chat after the game. He made the trip from Texas ahead of Thursday’s scheduled Senior Night activities. “They couldn’t stop her tonight.”

For a moment, a dream-like scenario of chants and waving to a crowd became reality. Taylor couldn’t think of a sweeter moment for her parents, Milton and Tina Connally, who tune into each of their daughter’s games at Georgia like a ritual.

Connally had her moment as the star of the Lady Bulldogs’ show. A feature film featuring the team’s quest to postseason prosperity.

Her reward? Boba tea.

“That's the first one I've hit in four years,” Connally said. “It's not really good. But it's the first one, ya know? Maybe there'll be more.”