For several seasons, we've seen Coach Landers' teams do really well, only to fade down the stretch. It has been nine seasons since the Lady Dawgs have played in a Regional Semi-final and 14 since a Final Four Trip. That isn't to say Georgia hasn't prospered, as Landers has won nearly 75% of his games since then, and that is factoring in the worst season of his career in 2009. We've been to the Sweet 16 six times and the Elite 8 twice in that time.
Still, Georgia hasn't looked competitive once the Lady Dawgs get to March in a number of years, culminating with a soul crushing upset loss to Marist as a 3 seed last year.
I'm not quite ready to say that this team is different (although until their head scratching and listless performance at Mississippi State last week, I would have been). They do, however, have a physicality going for them that I haven't seen from a Landers team in a few years. While they aren't as polished, and are prone to the crazy lapses in focus that have been hallmark of
The last minute against Vandy, when the Lady Commodores were trying to make a furious comeback, is a good example. Inexplicably, Georgia lost all composure with about one minute to play. Two turnovers and two missed free throws were mixed in with two great defensive plays and a stunning feed from Armstrong to James for a layup that I'm sure Vandy had to watch the tape on to see what actually happened.
That layup was the killer. With the win, the Lady Dawgs earned a double bye and don't play until Friday in Duluth.
How far can this team go?
They have shown they can go and play with any team in the country. They beat Kentucky on the road, the only team to beat the Lady Cats in Lexington this season. They have played solid fundamental games and have bought into Landers defense. They gave Tennessee all they could handle in Knoxville before falling apart late in the second half.
However, Texas A&M came to Athens and handled them pretty well. They lost on the road to LSU. They only shot 18% against Mississippi State in that loss. They tried to give away the game to Vandy.
Georgia will end up with a 4-6 seed in the NCAA tourney. They could get a three if they play to Sunday and a two if they win the SEC tourney. I don't see them losing in the first round to a 14 seed again (of course, who does?). I also don't see them progressing past the Elite 8, absent a very good match-up or solving the riddle of who is supposed to go where with the ball during the last five minutes of the game.
Can they get to the Final Four? Possible, but not likely. However, if they go to Duluth and win the SEC, I'd like them going that far, as it will show they can handle a team with more talent in a gym that isn't Stegeman.
Lady Dawgs tip at 8:30 on Friday against the winner of LSU and Auburn at The Arena at Gwinnett Center. That game is on Sports South. The Semi-Finals will be on ESPNU and the Finals on ESPN2.