Georgia coach Andy Landers said he received a text message from his senior point guard Khaalidah Miller at 6:30 a.m. Sunday. She couldn’t sleep. She was too “jacked” for that afternoon’s game against Georgia Tech.
Miller played like it, hitting her first three 3-pointers to set the tone for a 63-56 win over the Yellow Jackets on her way to a season-high 20 points. She finished with four assists, four rebounds and a steal while playing all 40 minutes.
“They left her open two or three times early and it was bam, bam, bam,” Landers said. “Anytime you can have that kind of thing happen, it gives everybody on your team a little more confidence.”
Miller complemented those early shots with some big plays down the stretch, including a lay-up off a baseball pass from Krista Donald to beat Tech’s press with 1:37 to play. Miller was still charged up with 48 seconds to play when she got locked up with Tech guard Sydney Wallace, which drew technical fouls for both teams.
If Miller played like it was personal, it’s probably because it was for the 5-foot-9 senior from Atlanta, who played at Douglass High and had been recruited by Georgia Tech.
“It was really big when they recruited me because I was a kid out of Atlanta, and that was big for them to get a kid out of Atlanta for the fan base,” Miller said. “When I told them I was coming here, they were highly upset. I remember I had already committed and they were still calling, wanting me to change my mind and all this unnecessary stuff.”
Miller, the only senior on Georgia’s roster, will finish her career with three straight wins over Tech, helping the No. 23 Bulldogs (5-0) improve to 14-0 against the Yellow Jackets in Athens and 32-4 overall.
Nearly 30 minutes after the game, in socks and with stat sheet in hand, Miller was stepping onto an elevator just outside the Jackets’ locker room where Tech coach MaChelle Joseph was still giving her players a piece of her mind.
“We didn’t compete for 40 minutes and it starts with our seniors,” Joseph said. “You can’t expect your freshmen and sophomores to carry the burden in a game like this, a rivalry game. Your seniors have to show up.”
“She came out to start the game and kind of punched us in the mouth, made some 3s and established herself,” Joseph said. “She did what a senior should do in this kind of game.”
Tech senior Ty Marshall, a three-year starter, had to come off the bench to score her 11 points. Joseph said the bar has been raised for Marshall her senior year.
“She’s going to come off the bench until she starts playing harder,” Joseph said.
Yellow Jackets standout freshman Kaela Davis led Tech with 13 points but she was held nine points below her 22.7 average over the first three games. She fouled out with 1:38 to go. Davis showed off her skills with a couple of nice moves to the basket, as well as making a 24-foot 3-point shot. But Georgia frustrated her down the stretch.
The Lady Bulldogs drew two charges and forced Davis into a turnover, which Miller converted into a basket despite a hard Davis foul with 2:30 to go. Both Davis and Marshall fouled out of the game.
“Ty Marshall has to step up and take some of the pressure off of Kaela,” Joseph said. “Because when Ty’s not scoring, then they can really key on Kaela and that’s what you’re seeing happen.”
Tech had only five assists and committed 27 turnovers to Georgia’s 17, even though the Yellow Jackets were the team doing most of the pressing.
Tech (2-2) cut the deficit to three points twice in the final 6:44. Each time the Lady Bulldogs answered with a big basket from Shacobia Barbee, including a 3-point play to put Georgia up 53-47 with 3:53 left. Barbee finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
“At times it wasn’t pretty offensively, but defensively it was pretty all day long,” Landers said. “We did outstanding. They turned it over 27 times.”