9:12 PM ET, March 4, 2010
DULUTH, Ga. -- Ashley Houts scored 18 points and delivered a key late defensive play to help Georgia (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) beat Alabama 73-66 on Thursday night to survive a first-round scare in the Southeastern Conference tournament.With Georgia leading by two points, Houts stole the ball from LaToya King, who fouled the senior with 1:29 remaining. Houts made two free throws to stretch the lead to 67-63.Houts said King and another Alabama player "kind of ran into each other." Houts was in position for her second steal."Thankfully we hit some shots and made some plays that sealed it for us," Houts said.Georgia had 10 steals, blocked seven shots and had a 24-13 advantage in points off turnovers, but even with all the big defensive plays, the Lady Bulldogs couldn't stop Alabama's Ericka Russell.Russell scored a career-high 30 points, including a 3-pointer with 30 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 67-66. Meredith Mitchell, who scored 16 points, made four free throws in the final 28 seconds for Georgia.Georgia (23-7) will face Mississippi State on Friday night.Alabama (12-18) lost in the first round of the tournament for the fifth straight year.Russell made 6 of 11 3-pointers. Tierney Jenkins added 15 points."I don't think we really ever got down and thought it was over," Houts said. "We kept fighting."Georgia beat Alabama for the 18th straight time, a streak that began in 1998.A turnover by Georgia's Porsha Phillips set up Dedrea Magee's basket with 7:21 remaining to give Alabama a 54-52 lead, its first lead of the second half.A 3-pointer by Russell gave Alabama a 63-61 lead with 3:52 remaining. Two free throws by Mitchell tied the game, and Jasmine James scored with 2:32 remaining to give Georgia the lead.Georgia made 28 of 36 free throws. Alabama made 9 of 15 free throws.Phillips had 7 points and 13 rebounds.Freshman Jasmine Hassell had 11 points, including six straight in an 11-0 run that gave Georgia a 21-11 lead. Alabama answered with an 8-0 run that included the second of Russell's three 3-pointers in the half.Another Georgia freshman, Jasmine James, added 10 points.Alabama's last win over Georgia came on Feb. 8, 1998. The Crimson Tide's only SEC tournament win over Georgia came in 1981.Georgia set a school record by winning its first 16 games this season and was ranked No. 6 before losing six of eight late in the season as Houts battled a sprained left ankle.The Lady Bulldogs recovered to win their last two regular-season games, and their three-game winning streak is their longest since the 16-0 start.