How the Lady Bulldogs flipped a late lull into dominance to beat Furman

Furman trimmed its deficit to four points in the third quarter. Georgia went into takeover mode.

Georgia forward Javyn Nicholson (35) during a game against Furman at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Sun., Dec. 20, 2020. (Photo by Chamberlain Smith)

ATHENS, Ga. — For a brief moment, Georgia didn’t look like itself on the scoreboard against Furman. Joni Taylor knew it might happen, too.

Georgia has had its way with non-Power 5 opponents during the season’s early stages. But Furman, despite only having two wins to its record, presented Georgia with a final challenge before SEC play begins on Dec. 31. Georgia’s head coach knew her team needed it, which is a factor in why the Paladins earn a spot on the schedule nearly every season.

But after a second-half run, Furman gave Georgia a scare. The Lady Bulldogs only had a four point lead, scored only three points in the first five-plus minutes of play out of the locker room and looked out-of-sync.

“We were too relaxed,” said senior guard Que Morrison. “It was a lack of focus and a whole lot of sightseeing. We would make a mistake and look at each other in a bit of a daze.”

Georgia (7-0) topped Furman 69-43 on Sunday afternoon inside its friendly and familiar Stegeman Coliseum confines. The scoreboard says the Lady Bulldogs routed its SoCon opponent. That wasn’t the case as the Paladins, led by widely-respected head coach Jackie Carson, made things interesting with eight freshmen on their roster.

Suddenly, Georgia flipped its switch like Iron Man or an Avenger activating a superhero suit. A lull turned into a show of dominance, and Georgia’s monstrous depth led the team to a 26-point victory in the midst of playing three games in five days.

Taylor realized the highs and lows of her team’s performance, but it depended on which quarter you referenced in Sunday’s victory. Georgia played a strong first quarter, a usual trend through non-conference play, then slipped a bit in the second period. The Lady Bulldogs went into the locker room with a nine-point lead.

The change in momentum led to Georgia’s lead being in danger. Furman out-hustled the Bulldogs, who gave up a flurry of easy baskets. The Paladins had a third-quarter advantage in rebounding and cashed in on second-chance opportunities.

Furman only trailed 38-34.

“I'm not going to read too much into it or say ‘Oh, we're back to last year with lulls in the third quarter.’” Taylor said. “I'm not concerned about that at all. They had us on our heels a bit, because of not knowing some stuff they were going to run.”

Georgia’s timeout came with 4:49 remaining in the period. Taylor’s in-the-huddle speech and encouragement from teammates worked like magic.

“We knew this isn't how we play,” sophomore guard Chloe Chapman said, who made her season debut after recovering from a knee injury suffered during soccer season. “We talked about it in the huddle.”

Furman made two free throws out of the timeout. Georgia took possession and looked like itself — and then some. The Lady Bulldogs went from a middling performance to looking like a premier program with depth, hustle and swarming defense. You know, like how Georgia takes those orders for hashbrowns at Waffle House.

Taylor’s group found its niche, and Furman’s hopes evaporated. Morrison led the effort as the team’s leading energy merchant. She locked the Paladins down defensively, recorded a career-high 13 rebounds and her efforts led to transition baskets. Mikayla Coombs, Sarah Ashlee Barker and forward Malury Bates (who played 22 minutes with a plus-minus of +14) fed off of it and gave Georgia its needed spark.

“I'm a dog who likes to compete. I don't let them see the light of day,” Morrison said. “I get those stops on the defensive end, then feed off of that offensively.”

Those performances collectively led to a 31-9 run through the remainder of regulation. Georgia found a lineup with those four leaders and stuck with it. Everyone dove to the floor, battled for possession and made its dominant mark.

A drastic change in execution came after Georgia had only two days to prepare for Furman. The Lady Bulldogs beat Georgia State by 34 on Thursday, then only scouted “a smidgen of what they run,” Taylor said. A single huddle, however, allowed an undefeated Georgia team go back to what makes it tick — overpower smaller opponents who aren’t as deep.

“We said ‘Let's do what we do,’” Taylor said.

“Everybody was all over the floor,” Morrison said. “We turned each other up, and it allowed us to run the scoreboard up.”

The spurt in which Georgia looked out of its element turned into one of the most dominant stretches of non-conference play. The Lady Bulldogs trusted in their depth, and a scare from Furman won’t lead to any long-term anxieties.

That’s why this game made the schedule, after all. Georgia’s hope is to limit these instances from occurring as competition toughens.

“I'm not too concerned with making it a bigger deal than it is,” Taylor said. “If it happens again, ask me about it after that.”