The Lady Bulldogs did what is more critical than anything else this time of year on Saturday against Mercer. Survive.
Georgia staved off an upset against a very talented Mercer squad, holding on to beat the Bears 68-63. The Lady Bulldogs play Duke in the second round on Monday night in Athens at 7 p.m. with the winner very likely getting a trip to face UConn. Saturday’s win advances Georgia past the first round for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
Mercer came into Saturday with a 30-win season in its back pocket. And even though it was the program’s first NCAA Tournament showing, Georgia didn’t have the luxury of its opponent having stage fright. Mercer was obviously helped by the strong showing from its fans that took advantage of the game being less than a two-hour drive from Macon - because let’s be honest - who wouldn’t want to spend a springtime day in The Classic City?
The Bears went toe to toe with Georgia until the Lady Bulldogs did in the second half what they have done to a lot of teams this year - let their defense take over.
After shooting upwards of 40 percent from the field in the first half, Georgia battened down on defense, holding Mercer to 21 percent shooting in the third quarter and 26 in the fourth.
It ended up being just enough to help the Lady Bulldogs put the win away.
Georgia also claimed a rebounding edge as both Caliya Robinson and Mackenzie Ingram had a big day shooting and on the boards. Robinson had 23 points and 16 rebounds with Ingram having 21 and 10. The Lady Bulldogs had a 45-34 rebounding advantage. More importantly, that included a 33-19 margin on the defensive end.
For casual fans, a close win over Mercer may be something to scoff at. But this was a high-caliber mid major that Georgia beat - pollsters don’t hand out top-25 rankings on a whim. In tournament play, the favorite will run into a hungry underdog, and the goal at day’s end is to stop them short of an upset. Georgia did just that. Mercer’s playmaking Kahlia Robinson may have gotten her points - 23 to be exact, but she wasn’t able to straight up take over the game enough to result in a Mercer upset win.