When a team commits 32 turnovers and shoots 17 fewer free throws than its opponent, one wouldn’t expect a victory. But that’s just what the Georgia Bulldogs got on Sunday against Cal in the championship game of the Oakland Tribune Classic at Haas Pavilion.
Georgia forward Tawana McDonald was the lone bright spot for the Bulldogs, and her 19-point, 13-rebound, 6 block effort was enough to carry her team to a 54-48 win in one of the ugliest games in recent memory.
The Bears lost a big game that was in their grasp. They held the No. 13 Bulldogs scoreless for the first eight-and-a-half minutes of the game and grabbed 25 offensive rebounds, but were done in by a horrendous shooting night, both from the floor and the free-throw line. Other than forward Ami Forney’s 9-for-18 effort, the Bears shot just 13 percent from the field, and were a miserable 17-for-35 from the charity stripe.
“Ami Forney went out and played great against a tough, big team,” Cal head coach Caren Horstmeyer said. “But sometimes (shooting poorly) is going to happen.”
Forney’s 22-point effort went in vain as Georgia pulled ahead in the second half behind the gigantic front line of McDonald, forward Kara Braxton and center Christi Thomas, who combined for all 14 Georgia blocks and 26 rebounds.
The Bears were all over the court on defense to start the game, and the Georgia players looked bewildered by the pressure, committing 12 turnovers in the first eight minutes on their way to an astounding 20 in the opening half. They also missed their first five shots while falling behind 12-0 before point guard Camille Murphy hit a short jumper to break the drought.
“I thought we came out and played with an incredible defensive intensity,” Horstmeyer said. “We played with all our heart in the first half.”
The Bulldogs slowly ate away at the Cal lead, with McDonald bulling her way inside for eight points down the stretch. Cal had six-point lead at halftime, but it should have been a bigger edge as forward Amber White missed four straight free throws in the final minute of the half. White finished the game just 5-of-12 from the line, along with a blank in seven tries from the field.
Cal had its own scoring problems around halftime, as the Bears went nearly eight minutes without a basket. Forney, playing the game with a sublexed shoulder suffered in the first round of the tournament on Saturday, hit a layup to put her team up 24-21, but McDonald sent Forney to the bench with her third foul soon after, and the Bears started to look lost without their senior leader. Georgia immediately went on a 12-point run as Whitney Law and Tina Taylor hit 3-pointers, and suddenly the Bears were looking at a 38-28 deficit.
“The first half we looked like something you would want to pack up and send to your worst enemy, then we come out and play like something you would put in a basketball clinic,” Georgia head coach Andy Landers said of his team’s uneven play. “It’s impressive that we can recover like that, but it’s not something I’m enamored of at this point.”
Forney came back in and hit for a three-point play, and Cal point guard Kristin Iwanaga hit the Bears only 3-pointer of the game to pull within five. When guard LaTasha O’Keith grabbed loose ball and put it in the basket minutes later, Cal had pulled to within 42-41.
But McDonald made her presence felt again, making a turnaround jumper and then driving past Forney, who had four fouls and couldn’t press on defense, to give Georgia a 48-42 lead. The Bulldogs made their free throws in the final minute of the game to take home the tournament trophy.
Forney, who pulled down 10 rebounds, including 7 on the offensive glass, impressed her more-heralded opponents.
“She’s just real strong down low, and we got in foul trouble trying to defend her,” said McDonald, who fouled out of the game in the final minute.
But for Forney, Cal’s only returning starter this season, the game wasn’t a chance for personal glory. She saw it as a chance to establish the team as a contender for the post-season by playing a national power to the end.
“I think we’ll gain a lot of respect from this game,” she said. “I just hope we can learn from our mistakes. Hopefully we’ll be out there practicing free throws all this week.”