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Feb. 25, 2010

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WBB Post-Game Blog: Distant Memory

Coach Staley

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -Georgia’s Ashley Houts played the perfect game – almost.

“I know I missed that free throw,” she said.

That misfire was about the only thing that didn’t go in for Houts, the Lady Bulldogs’ senior who made all seven of her shots and scored 21 points in a 65-49 victory over South Carolina on Thursday night.

When Houts plays like this, Georgia (21-7, 8-7 Southeastern Conference) is difficult to stop, no matter how much went wrong for the club the past month.

Houts has been so vital to the team, Georgia coach Andy Landers worries his players don’t always act like they can succeed if she’s not on the floor.

“She energizes our team,” Landers said. “It seems like when she plays well, everybody does.”

The Lady Bulldogs played as well as anyone in the country through mid-January, when they went 18-1, a stretch capped by a 53-50 victory over SEC powerhouse Tennessee.

But Houts injured her ankle in that win and tweaked the injury again a game later against Ole Miss, the first of three straight defeats. Georgia came into this one having lost six of eight, Houts scoring single-digits five times in that span after doing it just four times in her team’s first 20 contests.

Georgia had played only once in 10 days entering this game and Houts’ ankle felt as well as it had in a while.

“I got some rehab and some rest and it’s paid off,” Houts said. “It feels good.”

That’s great news for the Lady Bulldogs, who hope to carry this momentum into its season finale against Arkansas and on to the SEC tournament in Duluth, Ga.

“We hit a little rough patch there for a while,” Houts said. “I think this game was important for many reasons. I think it’s hopefully going to give us a lot of confidence.”

Valerie Nainima had 18 points to lead South Carolina (13-14, 6-9), which has lost four straight since upsetting the Lady Bulldogs 52-42 on Feb. 7.

“We’re so low, we’re trying to pull anything out to be positive,” Nainima said.

It was hard to find anything positive, especially with Houts in charge.

Houts closed the first half with a driving basket for a 29-25 lead at the break and the Lady Bulldogs kept up the pressure when play resumed with a 9-2 run.

Jasmine Hassell began the period with a bucket and Meredith Mitchell followed with another to push Georgia’s lead to 33-25. After James added a jumper, Houts made a 3-pointer that put her team up 38-29.

South Carolina got as close at 45-40 on Kelsey Bone’s inside basket. Houts, though, followed with a free throw, James had two jumpers and Houts made her third 3-pointer to make it 53-42.

Georgia came in hoping to stop the stunning freefall it experienced the past five weeks. That’s when things fell apart as Georgia lost six of its last eight to drop from the top 10 to nearly out of the national rankings. That included a loss to South Carolina, who hadn’t beaten Georgia since 2002.

The Lady Bulldogs tried to erase the memory of that defeat quickly in this one, Houts scoring 4 points as they ran out to an 11-4 lead. However, like most leads Georgia’s had the past month, this one disappeared, too.

Nainima hit three consecutive 3-pointers, the last tying it at 21.

South Carolina looked as if it was on a path to the NCAA tournament bubble in coach Dawn Staley’s second season after ending its nine-game losing streak to Georgia earlier this month. However, the Gamecocks will need enormous luck down the stretch to make the field.

Staley took the microphone after the Gamecocks’ final home game and told the crowd her program was still a work in progress.

“But if you hang in there, these (losses) will be distant memories for us,” she said.