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Friday, Oct 22, 2021

Shoot Your Shot: Georgia Bulldogs just the first of many tough opponents

Alex Williams taking a jump shot.
Alex Williams taking a jump shot.

Mercer Women’s Basketball (3-1) wrapped up its second week of action and the Bears found out a few things about themselves on their chase for a third conference championship.

After toughing out two wins on the road to begin the season at UCF and Florida Atlantic, the Bears came back to Macon looking to defend Hawkins Arena against fellow Peach State opponents Georgia Southern and the University of Georgia.

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Georgia Southern posed little problems for the Bears. Two 27-point quarters to start either half proved that the Bears can score and score in a hurry. This core group of juniors and seniors are entering their third year playing together and can run Head Coach Susie Gardner’s offense to a T. When they are playing cohesively and in rhythm, the Bears’ offense is a machine that can produce from both inside and outside and be deadly from mid-range.

The problems occur when Mercer gets out of sync. The second quarter of the Georgia Southern game only saw Mercer put up five points and get outscored by the Eagles 11-5 going to halftime. Coach Gardner turned to a “good defense makes good offense” approach and ratcheted up the pressure to start the third quarter, switching to a halfcourt 1-3-1. The Bears forced 11 turnovers and scored 18 points off turnovers in the quarter and were able to cruise to victory in the fourth.

The Georgia game was a different story. It appeared Mercer had their SEC foe shook in the first period, winning the quarter 12-7. After that Georgia outscored Mercer 25-12 in the second to take a 32-24 lead heading into the quarter and were able to keep the Bears at bay for most of the game before running away at the end.

Although the box score will make the 72-54 game look like a blowout, the Bears were in striking distance most of the game. However, Georgia’s swarming defense obviously gave Mercer fits, preventing the Bears from getting into any kind of definitive rhythm and eventually it looked the Bulldogs just won the marathon as Mercer seemed to run out of gas.

Had Mercer not turned up the pressure themselves towards the end to create turnovers, the game likely would have ended with an 8-12 point deficit as was the norm much of the second half. Coach Gardner didn’t want to concede the easy W.

“We could have lost by 10 and just sat back and been ‘Ok, this is a good score to go on…,’” said Gardner postgame. “Or we could say ‘we’re going to get up. We’re going to pressure and see if we can make something happen’ and we chose the latter.”

Kahlia Lawrence especially seemed to struggle. She had 19 points against Georgia, but it was a quiet and ugly 19. Lawrence shot just 6-20 from the field, and six of her points came from the stripe in the first half.

This isn’t an indictment on Lawrence at all. Georgia’s length and speed are some of the toughest the Bears will see all year and Georgia was hounding Lawrence all game, denying her the ball and hedging her and Sydni Means hard off of ball screens.

Georgia is one of two Power 5 conference opponents the Bears will face. They’ll face North Carolina in December. They will face five teams that were in a postseason tournament last year. Western Kentucky and UNC-Asheville were both in the NCAA tournament; George Washington and Central Florida played in the WNIT and Campbell played in the WBI. The tough early season matchups will give Mercer every possible look prior to conference play.

“My philosophy this year - and I told my scheduling coach -  I said ‘I want the best schedule we can get’ and we’ve got a really, really difficult schedule,” Gardner said. “I said ‘we may not win as many non-conference games, but we’re going to be shown every situation that we may see in the conference, because we have a good conference’.”

Before Mercer gets to all of those games minus UCF, here’s what we know through four games:


The three-headed monster has to perform

The three-headed monster known as the Chimera was a beast that terrorized lands in Greek mythology. The Bears have their own in Sydni Means, Kahlia Lawrence, and Keke Calloway.

The combination of Means, Lawrence, and Keke Calloway are going to be a deadly trio this season. Through four games they have scored 176 of Mercer’s 265 points this season. That’s more than half for those of you who might not be as math savvy . When these three are all scoring, as was the case for every game minus Georgia, the Bears will be hard to stop this season. Not to mention, Means is averaging nearly eight assists a game to tag along to that 176 number.


The Mercer bench must become a factor quickly

When the Chimera (yes, I’m really going to call them that) is struggling, others are really going to have to step up off the bench. Mercer fans saw some good things out of Alex Williams who had nine points and six boards in the Georgia game. A quick first step makes Williams’ penetration to the basket hard to guard, and a decent jumper from mid-range makes taller defenders have to guard her tighter than others.

Guard Linnea Rosendal did not put up much in the Georgia game either. She only played 2 minutes and went 0-2 from the floor, but in the Southern game we saw her shine with 15 points, and she was an assassin from downtown going 3-5. Rosendal had a really solid freshman campaign, averaging nine points in a starting role en route to a SoCon Freshman of the Year title and a spot on the SoCon All-Freshman team, but struggled as a sophomore. If Gardner can coax consistency out of her and trust her in more physical contests like the Georgia and UCF games, then the Sweden native can really be problem off the bench.

The freshmen will have to grow up quickly as well, and Coach Gardner has already said that as the year progresses she will depend on them. Shannon Titus played solid defense at the top of Gardner’s 1-3-1 zone in place of Lawrence during the Southern game, and center LaKaitlin Wright showed some aggression and a nice touch pass assist as well.

Coach Gardner on trusting her bench: “I’ve got to get to a point where I trust my bench a little bit more. I told my players who didn’t play (in the Georgia game) that this was not the game for them to audition in. … At some point I have to start playing these other players and I will, but you’re not going to throw Shannon Titus out there as a freshman versus Georgia and say ‘hey, good luck baby. Go get em.’ I think our depth is going to help us towards the end, but we’ve got to get some games that aren’t so intense.”


Length could be a problem

The Bears are not a very tall team. On paper, it may appear so as the Bears boast three players who are 6’2” or taller, but 6’2” Germani Abrams is injured and 6’3” LaKaitlin Wright is still looking to find her footing as a freshman. Amanda Thompson is listed at 5’10”, but is often outsized by bigger opponents. That rarely stops her though as she averaged 6.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore and 6.0 this season. Kayla Potts is 5’10” and a very capable defender as is 5’9” Alex Williams, but Mercer may find trouble against teams that can dominate them physically on the boards.



The Bears can be thankful for a very short road trip as they travel to Atlanta for the GSU Thanksgiving Classic. They will play Western Kentucky on Friday, Nov. 24 and Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday, Nov. 26.


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