A new season is upon us. Or, as the cool kids say, it’s a new “szn.” A new fresh start for Georgia’s women’s basketball team.
The Lady Bulldogs hosted in-state foe Kennesaw State, and beat the Owls 80-65. Junior point guard Gabby Connally led Georgia with 28 points as Jenna Staiti added her first career double-double (16 points and 11 rebounds). Georgia improves to 1-0 and hosts North Carolina A&T on Nov. 13 (7 p.m., SEC Network Plus).
Here are five observations from the Lady Bulldogs’ season-opening win.
1) Georgia’s got some shot-makers, at least it looks that way. The Lady Bulldogs have had one shooter in each of the last two seasons, and defenses could key in on one and dare Georgia to shoot. More times than not, it led to a struggling offense. Suddenly, a wave of fresh air percolated through the arena. Georgia has three shooters — Connally, Maya Caldwell and Caitlin Hose — and Jenna Staiti can space the floor with a 3-point ability at 6-foot-6.
Georgia fired them frequently, and they fell through nearly half the time (10-for-21). Georgia hit double-digit 3-pointers for the first time since hitting 12 at Texas A&M on January 14, 2018. Connally led the way with four 3-pointers, while Caldwell had three — including a buzzer-beater to end the third quarter.
“It’s a big win for us, and we work on this everyday,” Caldwell said. “It helps us a lot, and what you do in the dark is going to show in the light. Overall, we wanted to increase our percentage.”
Said head coach Joni Taylor: “Hopefully this is what you see from us every time we play.”
2) Staiti looks comfortable against smaller opposition. She received a challenge from Taylor, and the coaches wanted her play escalated a level higher. Staiti is a true mismatch at 6-foot-6, especially when the opponent’s tallest defender is 6-foot-3. But first she had to embrace her role, and Staiti took time to do so in the preseason.
That has begun to show its benefit. Staiti received her first-career start, played for long spurts and tallied 35 minutes of play. Her presence was felt throughout the game offensively, and the redshirt junior recorded her first-ever double-double.
“I feel like I need to step up with the position I am in,” Staiti said. “I need to set the stage for those coming in so they know what they need to do.”
3) For a team with a defensive backbone, there’s work to be done. In some aspects, the players acted like they had lost. They loved being able to chalk up 80 points, but there was obvious displeasure defensively. Staiti got frustrated when she saw Kennesaw State go after a loose ball and reclaim possession when the Lady Bulldogs didn’t give maximum effort.
Taylor concurs, and it made the game much closer than it could’ve been. Kennesaw State trimmed its deficit to eight points midway through the third quarter. Georgia didn’t like how it allowed for easy passes, comfortable opposing guard play and “one-and-done” sequences where it failed to corral rebounds. Alexis Poole led Kennesaw State with 15 points. Kamiyah Street (15) and Carlotta Gianolla (14) combined to add 29.
“I’m not very pleased at all with how we defended,” Taylor said. “We did some things that we cannot do. There’s a lot to correct on that end. As happy as I am offensively, I am absolutely disappointed in the defense.”
4) Freshmen post players had their share of first-game jitters. Javyn Nicholson and Jordan Isaacs entered their debuts with plenty of praise from the Lady Bulldogs’ head coach. There’s a lot to like from each of their skill sets as a true back-to-the-basket player. Against Kennesaw State, however, the duo looked exactly like what they are — freshmen.
The nerves were evident. Nicholson and Isaacs scored two points each and combined for four turnovers and five personal fouls.
“They’re going to have to figure it out,” Taylor said. “Our non-conference schedule doesn’t allow them to get their feet wet. They played like freshmen. They’re going to have to learn quickly, because we’re counting on them.”
5) Gabby Connally has relished the opportunity to play full-time point guard. She returned to her primary position where she was able to thrive as a prospect out of San Antonio, Texas. It took Connally two years to claim it as her full-time gig at Georgia, however. She played the two-guard during her first two seasons alongside Taja Cole, then Cole transferred to Virginia Tech. Connally looked at home with her sixth-career performance of 20-or-more points and one assist away from her first double-double.
She won’t always have a 28-point total as Connally might become more of a distributor in future games. Taylor, however, wanted to ensure the sharpshooter received her opportunities to score against the Owls.
“I’m always excited to play, and I’ve realized I do have a bigger role,” Connally said. “I have really tried to tune into that during practice. I want to do whatever I can to help this team.”