ATHENS — Seventeenth-ranked Georgia is playing like a team that is going to the beach for spring break.
Vanderbilt handed the Lady Dogs a 61-54 defeat Sunday, their third straight and sixth in their last nine. Suddenly, the Lady Dogs are starting to recognize that receiving an NCAA post-season bid is not guaranteed.
“There is no doubt that is on our mind,” said senior Tasha Humphrey, who scored 17 points for Georgia (16-6, 3-4 Southeastern Conference). “If we don’t get it turned around, we will be hoping and praying to get a bid, and that is not Georgia basketball,” Humphrey said.
Georgia has played in 24 of 26 NCAA tournaments. But the current edition has struggled offensively, shooting poorly (37 percent Sunday) and turning the ball over frequently (21 times against Vanderbilt). Georgia has averaged 20.5 turnovers a game over its last six games.
“Turnovers put us in a hole,” said coach Andy Landers. “I can run over a lot of plays in my mind where we made bad decisions. I can’t tell you what is going on in someone’s mind.”
Christina Wirth led Vanderbilt (16-6, 5-2 SEC) with 18 points. Jennifer Risper added 13, including three free throws in the final minute when Georgia was trying desperately to rally.
“We felt the key today would be stopping the 3-point shot,” said Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb. Georgia hit three of 19 from beyond the arc.
“It was also key that our kids did not get rattled,” Balcomb said. “Georgia made a nice comeback and got the crowd behind them. But our kids were confident and didn’t get rattled.”
Vanderbilt outscored Georgia 20-2 during a seven-minute stretch of the first half to take a 27-11 lead with 7:31 to go in the half.
“How is it that a team we defended reasonably well for 30 minutes could come out and jump us?” asked Landers. “It seems to be a trend in the way we have started games. Then when we get down 16 points, all of a sudden we can defend them. That is mind-boggling to me.”
Humphrey scored eight during a 10-0 run that enabled Georgia to cut the spread to 27-21 with 2:32 to go in the half. The Commodores stretched it back out to a 34-23 halftime lead.
The Lady Dogs opened the second half with a 12-3 run to tie the game at 35-35 when Angela Puleo hit a 3-pointer with 14:47 to play. Humphrey’s scoop layup with 9:07 to go tied the game at 41-all, but Georgia would not score another field goal for eight minutes.
Three free throws by Ashley Houts, who scored 13 points, and Jasmine Lee gave Georgia a brief lead at 44-43 with 8:13 to play. But Vanderbilt scored 10 straight points, building a 53-44 lead with 1:53 to play on Jessica Mooney’s short jumper.
Georgia could get no closer than six points.
The loss was the third straight for Georgia, only the third three-game losing streak in Landers’ 30 years as head coach. Georgia’s last win was Landers’ 700th. Vanderbilt’s victory gave Balcomb 300 for her career.
“I could just see it in our kids’ eyes,” said Balcomb. “Georgia is ranked, and we were on the road with nothing to lose I thought our team really played to win.”
“It is going to be tough for us now,” said Georgia’s Megan Darrah of post-season hopes. “But we are in it for the long run. We have got to win out.”