IOWA CITY, Iowa – Georgia coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said her first season as the Bulldogs’ head coach was an internal battle to find “stars.”
“The star,” she said, “was our defense.”
The Lady Bulldogs’ zone defense stifled Florida State in Friday’s 66-54 win in a women’s NCAA Tournament first-round game.
Diamond Battles scored 21 points and Audrey Warren added 11 points as the 10th-seeded Lady Bulldogs (22-11) advanced to Sunday’s second round to face either No. 2 seed Iowa or 15th-seeded Southeastern Louisiana.
Georgia held the seventh-seeded Seminoles (23-10) to just 26.9% shooting from the field, including 22.9% in the second half.
“They’re big, they’re physical,” Florida State coach Brooke Wyckoff said. “It’s not your typical stand-around zone. They’re very aggressive. They play 100% zone, and they know what they’re doing.”
The Lady Bulldogs have embraced their defensive mentality. Asked why the zone works so well, Battles smiled and said, “I don’t want to give away any secrets.”
She did go into a little bit of detail, though.
“It’s ball pressure,” Battles said. “I think most teams struggle with the pressure, because it is a zone. We try to upset their offense.”
Georgia led 43-40 with 2:03 left in the third quarter before going on a 14-0 run that extended three minutes into the fourth quarter. Florida State would get no closer than 10 points the rest of the game.
“They were getting tips,” Abrahamson-Henderson said of her team’s defensive pressure in that stretch. “It was just being really savvy, getting tips, getting loose balls.”
Florida State guard Taylor O’Brien agreed, saying Georgia’s “defense was all over the place” and “we didn’t get the 50-50 balls.”
The Seminoles (23-10) had just eight available players for the tournament. The university announced on Thursday morning that freshman guard Ta’Niya Latson and sophomore guard O’Mariah Gordon were out for the rest of the season because of injuries.
Latson was an honorable-mention Associated Press All-American along with being the ACC’s Rookie of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection. She averaged 21.3 points and 4.5 rebounds this season. Gordon, who played in 30 games and started twice this season, averaged 6.9 points and two rebounds.
“We’ve played this way all year,” Florida State forward Erin Howard said. “We were used to it. It’s tough mentally, but we’ve been here before.”
Howard had 19 points and nine rebounds to lead Florida State. O’Brien had 15 points.
“We’re obviously very disappointed,” Wyckoff said. “We were confident coming in here. Unfortunately, the ball wouldn’t drop all day.”
Jordan Isaacs had 10 points and Javyn Nicholson had 13 rebounds for Georgia.
“I’m just proud of the buy-in,” Abrahamson-Henderson said of how the Lady Bulldogs have responded in her first season as their head coach. “At the beginning, I was talking about, ‘We’re going to be good, we’re going to be good, we’re going to be good.’ It was about getting used to playing with each other.”
Florida State: The Seminoles built a first-half lead, but couldn’t sustain it as they missed shots in the second half. Not having Latson’s scoring proved to be costly, as Florida State had trouble getting to the basket against Georgia’s defense. “At the beginning of the game, we were getting the shots we wanted,” Howard said.
Georgia: The Lady Bulldogs had their own shooting woes to open the game – they shot just 28.6% in the first quarter – but found an offensive rhythm and took advantage of the Seminoles’ struggles. Georgia went nine deep in the game, taking advantage of Florida State’s lack of depth.