Georgia vs. Illinois
When: 4 p.m. Dec. 28
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer was hoping her team would be ready for a Top 25 challenge.
The Scarlet Knights answered with a thrilling 61-58 victory over No. 16 Georgia.
Kahleah Copper and Betnijah Laney each scored 18 points to help Rutgers hand Georgia its first loss of the season.
"We needed to have our confidence as this is a young group," Stringer said. "This is a major game to find out how well we're going to play at that level."
Rutgers (9-2) lost its only other game against a ranked opponent this season, falling to LSU. The Scarlet Knights also had added incentive after losing at Georgia last year.
"We try not to look too far ahead," said Laney, who also had 10 rebounds. "When it came up it was something we were looking forward to because we lost to them last year. This time we were at home and didn't want to be mad for Christmas."
Rutgers led by four at the half and the Scarlet Knights couldn't build on that early in the second half. Georgia took its first lead of the game, 46-45, on a three-point play by Tiaria Griffin with 7:25 left.
The Scarlet Knights answered with six straight points to make it 51-46 with 5 minutes left.
Rutgers led 59-52 with 21 seconds left before Shacobia Barbee hit a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game. After a missed free throw by Syessence Davis, Barbee swished another 3 from the top of the key to make it 59-58 with 7 seconds left.
Tyler Scaife hit two free throws with 5.9 left and Khaalidah Miller's 3-pointer from 35-feet at the buzzer bounced off the front rim.
Barbee finished with a season-high 18 points — 17 of them in the second half — to lead Georgia (11-1), which had 24 turnovers.
"We weren't executing and something we learned was that we need to take care of the ball every possession," Barbee said.
This was only the second trip out of the state of Georgia for the Lady Bulldogs, who played at Belmont earlier this month. The Lady Bulldogs got off to a tough start turning the ball over on their first six possessions. They didn't score their first points until Erika Ford's jumper from the wing nearly 6 minutes into the game.
"I'm proud of the fact that we didn't fold," Georgia coach Andy Landers said. "They handed it to us the first five or six minutes and we got our balance and fought back. From that point on really played pretty decent."
Georgia battled back to tie the game at 27 on Miller's 3-pointer. Rutgers led 31-27 at the break.
This was the Lady Bulldogs first trip to Rutgers since the 2008 season when the two teams met in the Jimmy V Classic. Rutgers came away with a 45-34 victory.
The Scarlet Knights will open up American Athletic Conference play next Saturday at South Florida. Rutgers is in the new conference for one season before heading to the Big Ten next year.
Georgia closes its non-conference schedule against Lipscomb before starting SEC play at Vanderbilt on Jan. 2.
"As everyone knows the SEC is a tough league with Kentucky and Tennessee in there," Miller said. "We knew it would be a really good game against a really good team and it's what we'll see in the SEC as well."