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What’s next for Lady Bulldogs in postseason play? Start with these 3 questions

Georgia guard Taja Cole (0) jumps for a layup during a game between the University of Georgia and the University of Arkansas in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Thursday, February 21, 2019. (Photo by Lauren Tolbert)
Georgia guard Taja Cole (0) jumps for a layup during a game between the University of Georgia and the University of Arkansas in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Thursday, February 21, 2019. (Photo by Lauren Tolbert) Special to the Telegraph

Georgia’s women’s basketball team is in do-or-die mode.

Georgia dropped its regular-season finale to Kentucky 58-53 to give the Lady Bulldogs the No. 7 seed in the SEC Tournament. In order to return to the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons, it must make a run to boost its resume for the selection committee.

A chance at the run will start Thursday at 6 p.m. against Arkansas. Before Georgia travels to Bon Secours Wellness Arena to begin postseason play in Greenville, here are a few questions leading into the conference tournament.

“I want to end on a positive note,” point guard Taja Cole said. “I want to get some big wins, be in the tournament and make it a ride to remember. We play hard for each other and lead the team.”

Is there a realistic chance for an at-large?

The odds are stacked against Georgia heading into Greenville, and even more so after Sunday’s loss. With an RPI around 100, the Lady Bulldogs don’t find themselves on the bubble. A serious run in the SEC tournament would be the only thing to change that. The only hope may be an automatic bid, and that’s what ESPN’s Charlie Creme believed in February. But a path to the finals includes teams with high RPI rankings. A few of those wins, along with beating other SEC teams on the bubble (LSU and Tennessee), could be enough come Selection Sunday.

Can Georgia get back to valuing possessions?

Georgia looked to figure out the turnover problem with a below-average total in six consecutive games. But those woes returned against the Wildcats, and Kentucky had extra possessions as a result. That’s what led to Georgia’s defeat, and would likely lead to another if the trend is reborn.

If Georgia is hopeful for a run, it must limit turnovers.

“It wasn’t even because of the pressure, but a lot of it was balls off your foot or being too unselfish,” Cole said of the miscues against Kentucky. “It was our turnovers and because of what we were doing.”

Will the close calls result in wins?

Georgia had consistent effort and energy to pull off its second win over a ranked team this season. Frankly, it probably should’ve won as the defense was stifling and minor miscues were the difference. Cole said it rather directly: the Lady Bulldogs would’ve won if they didn’t miss five free throws and each guard didn’t have five turnovers. But those are one-time opportunities, and that’s been the season-long narrative.

Georgia is 0-4 against the top-four seeds in the SEC and lost those games by a combined 32 points. To reach a goal of earning an NCAA tournament berth, there’s no option at this point but to finish games.

“I honestly don’t think in a lot of games that people beat us, but we beat ourselves,” Cole said. “We have all the pieces. … Every time we plays somebody who is ranked, the world sees how well we do. They see how close we play them.”

Around the league

A look at other first-and-second round matchups in the SEC Tournament:

March 6

No. 12 Ole Miss vs. No. 13 Florida: These are two rebuilding programs in the SEC, but each have one marquee win as Ole Miss beat Kentucky and Florida topped Missouri. These teams played head-to-head once on Jan. 20, and the Rebels won 76-66.

No. 11 Alabama vs. No. 14 Vanderbilt: These teams have a win in common as they pulled off a win over Tennessee, a historic program within the SEC. Alabama and Vanderbilt played on Feb. 21 and the Crimson Tide recorded an 84-65 victory.

March 7

No. 8 Tennessee vs. No. 9 LSU: Tennessee claimed an 74-65 win over LSU on Jan. 27. These teams are on the “bubble” for an NCAA tournament berth and likely need to make a run in order to earn a bid.

No. 5 Missouri vs. Ole Miss/Florida: Missouri finished its regular season by topping Alabama 82-47 and was led by senior Sophie Cunningham. The Tigers will face the winner of the tournament opener between Ole Miss and Florida. They’re 1-1 against those teams.

No. 6 Auburn vs. Alabama/Vanderbilt: Auburn will enter the tournament with a chance to create havoc with its press-style defense that is like none other in the SEC. The Tigers are on the NCAA bubble, and could start its run against an in-state rival.

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