January 10, 2019 8:38:25 PM
Joni Taylor talked in October about a change in attitude for the Georgia women's basketball team.
Coming off a 26-7 season that included a 12-4 finish (third place) in the Southeastern Conference, Taylor said Georgia no longer was going to be the "hunter" but that it was going to be the "hunted." The preseason rankings and picks reflected that belief in Georgia, as Taylor's squad was ranked No. 14 in The Associated Press poll and picked third in the SEC preseason poll.
Georgia can still attain those goals, but it is working its way back up the ladder after suffering three of its four losses in November. Taylor hopes her team can take the first step toward re-claiming some of that swagger at 8 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network) when it takes on No. 7 Mississippi State in a SEC game at Humphrey Coliseum.
"I think we have just grown up a little bit guys," said Taylor, who stressed that she and her coaches encouraged their players not to believe they were as good as people said they were when the preseason accolades arrived. "I don't think we played with the same tempo when we had something to prove."
Taylor said losses to UCLA, Georgia Tech, and Maryland were a "reality check" as was a loss to Villanova. All four were on the road, but Georgia (11-4, 2-0 SEC) has won five in a row since the last setback. It defeated Vanderbilt 71-64 on Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee.
Taylor said the Bulldogs have made adjustments since the losses, but she acknowledged they still aren't where she wants them to be. Still, Georgia is holding opponents to 53.6 points per game and 34.1 shooting percentage from the field.
In addition to the losses, Georgia had to adjust after the season-ending injury to sophomore guard Que Morrison, who played in five games (two starts). Taylor said Gabby Connally, who shared the SEC Player of the Week honors with MSU's Jordan Danberry, is one player who has emerged since the loss of Morrison.
"Gabby is someone we ask to guard one of the best people on the floor and score for us, and that is something Q did," Taylor said. "She has matured. I think Gabby somewhere in the back of her mind always has known she had it in her. ... She always has known her presence was important. With Q being absent, she has realized how much more important it is to be consistent and that we are counting on her."
Taylor also hopes senior forward Caliya Robinson can continue to play through pain. She said the preseason first-team All-SEC pick is battling a painful knee that is something she has never experienced. She said the injury dates back to an anterior cruciate ligament/meniscus injury she suffered in high school.
"We hope to get her to a point where she is more consistent," Taylor said of Robinson, who is second on the team in scoring (12.8 points per game) and is averaging 8.1 rebounds. Robinson had played 30 or more minutes three times this season. Taylor said that is due in part to Robinson's knee problems. She said she often is limited in practice and sometimes doesn't even go in an effort to save her for games.
Taylor said the key for Robinson is realizing she doesn't have to be "Wonder Woman" to help Georgia realizes that potential.
Robinson talked about that potential in October at the SEC Media Days and envisioned a strong senior season for herself as well as the Bulldogs.
"All I really did was work (in the offseason) on my craft," Robinson said. "I had the shot. I had the rebounding. I had the blocked shots. I worked on anything that could help me get to the next level.
"I was just hungry. I want this to be the way I help my family. This is why I go so hard because that is something that is going to help me, and me having (my family) to motivate myself is what keeps me going."
Robinson said she felt she had an "OK" junior season in which she averaged 13.9 points and 8.7 rebounds.
Robinson said she gave 60-70 percent effort in a lot of the preseason games last season and in games when she felt like the team was going to lose. She felt there were too many times when she felt like she played like "crap" and that she now knows she could have and should have done more to help her team.
"That is why I am striving to be the best I can be," Robinson said.
So how good can Robinson be this season? First-team All-SEC? All-American?
"You just have to watch and see," Robinson said. " I was recruited as an All-American, so why not. I am setting my goals to take every game by the game we play. I have to go day by day. I can't sit here and dwell on the future because I don't know what the future holds."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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