Que Morrison entered Sunday’s game at Coleman Coliseum with a sickness. By the fourth quarter, it turned to pure frustration. Georgia was in a must-win game against Alabama, Morrison was depended on as a starting guard and had underperformed with eight points in over 30 minutes of play.
That all changed with 15 seconds left in regulation. It was a tie game and Georgia had a chance to hold off the Crimson Tide in a game the Lady Bulldogs had once led by double digits. Taja Cole’s shot rimmed out and Alabama had the rebound. It suddenly had the last possession, too, and Georgia was in danger of losing to a 10-win team for the second time this season.
Morrison wasn’t going to let that happen. Cierra Johnson took only two steps when the Lady Bulldogs’ sophomore displayed her per-usual quality of ferocity and scrappiness. She dove to the ground, swiped the possession away and ensured Georgia would have the final say on whether the game was won or would have an extra period.
An extra period it took, and Georgia (17-10, 8-6 SEC) pulled off a 76-67 win at Alabama. But not without that play.
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“She won that Alabama game for us,” Georgia guard Gabby Connally said, who has been an encourager to Morrison throughout the season as her roommate. “That steal was really big for us.”
It was a game-changing play from Morrison, and one the Lady Bulldogs have become used to. Morrison was a force as a freshman, and her so-called “sophomore slump,” as the cliche goes, was ever-evident due to a preseason meniscus injury that kept her out of action for four weeks and limited her minutes for many more. Those late-game heroics, however, were a continuation of Morrison’s surge toward looking like the 5-foot-6 do-it-all player of old.
Morrison has received 30-or-more minutes in four consecutive games, and she’s shown Georgia what it desired from the moment she represented the team at the conference’s media event. Head coach Joni Taylor and her staff wanted the relentless defense, versatile scoring ability and willingness to bring physicality with rebounding. All of that was hidden after the injury, but now it’s starting to re-appear.
Of her last five games, three of them have resulted in double-digit scoring performances. In the other two, Morrison had three offensive rebounds. She’s playing her level of basketball again.
“She has that heart and drive,” Cole said. “I think that’s huge for her to play without any fear now. You can tell that she’s trusting herself and that’s big for us.”
Morrison’s resurgence coincides with Georgia’s run toward potentially clinching its second-straight berth in the NCAA tournament — as her minutes increased, success came easier (the Lady Bulldogs are 4-2 since that climb started against Auburn Feb. 3).
Her injury didn’t come at the best time, and that’s to say the least. It happened during one of Georgia’s final unpublicized preseason scrimmages in Jacksonville, Florida. Morrison was eager to build upon a freshman campaign of 8.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game (in 32 starts, no less). Suddenly, she could be seen standing in the back of a hallway with crutches and a knee brace.
Georgia had a sense of confidence that it could make it through without Morrison on the floor due to its depth, but that loss was noticeable almost immediately. Entering the 28th game of its season, the team can look back on its schedule and wonder what could’ve been. Georgia lost close games to UCLA, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Villanova, and Morrison didn’t play in three of those contests. If she were healthy, the Lady Bulldogs could be far from the bubble and in contention to be a high seed in the tournament.
Only if, because those games won’t be played again. Georgia is where it is, and finds itself in numerous must-win situations if it wants to reach its goal. The fact is that Morrison is not only back in the starting lineup, but can be a force. That makes things significantly easier.
“It helps our team a lot to put up those numbers,” Morrison said after posting 16 points as Georgia beat Arkansas. Entering the game, she didn’t practice or shootaround due to the lingering injury. “I know the coaches and my teammates depend on me. We all depend on each other.”
One thing that did hold true from the early stages of the season, however, is Morrison’s energy. Each of her teammates highlighted it as her biggest quality, and that’s being shown now. Georgia is suddenly having fun again as it faces challenges in the SEC. There are no-look passes from Cole, smiles from Robinson and plenty of hustle plays being made.
Without a renewed Morrison, those spurts were sporadic. They’re now ever-flowing, and Georgia is better on each end because of it — highlighted by two 93-point performances in the span of 11 days. Georgia will need it to continue as its biggest chance to boost its Rating Percentage Index (RPI) comes March 3 against Kentucky, and the Lady Bulldogs also have an outside chance to be a No. 4 seed in the conference tournament and have a double-bye.
“You have to love her heart,” said Karen Lange, Georgia’s associate head coach who will continue to fill-in for Taylor on the team’s trip to Florida on Sunday. “That’s another reason why we’ve been able to play like this over the last two weeks. It’s because of her play.”
Morrison claims that she isn’t back to 100 percent, but senior forward Caliya Robinson saw potential flash from her first game returning against Furman.
“Oh, your leg is not messed up,” Robinson yelled to Morrison in a joking manner. “You don’t need that brace.”
But that crucial play against Alabama made one thing clear: Morrison is ready enough to be a force for Georgia again. She was the Lady Bulldogs’ missing piece, and could now become the most-vital piece.
“She’s back,” sophomore Maya Caldwell said. “She steps on the floor and it’s like nothing ever happened.”