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Post Lady Dogs open SEC action against Florida

Thursday January 4, 2007

Entering conference play, a basketball team hopes to be hitting its stride. You’ve had two months in which to test tactics and rotations against competition of varying quality. You want to start well because a few early setbacks in conference play can make the rest of the season an uphill climb.

But the Lady Dogs aren’t hitting their stride yet as they enter SEC play tonight against Florida. For reasons explained nicely by Marc Weiszer in the ABH, Coach Landers cautions that it might be at least mid-January before the team really gets into their groove. Off-season surgeries disrupted preseason conditioning and development. Tasha Humphrey’s suspension required a Plan B approach to the first month of the season (which worked way beyond my expectations). When Humphrey returned in early December, you had a team that was marginally conditioned and playing with all pieces for the first time in nearly 14 months.

The SEC isn’t very forgiving, and Georgia will have to find its form quickly. There are some obvious areas where improvement will have to come.

  1. Start stronger. Georgia raced out ahead of Rutgers and Stanford in key early games, but they’ve struggled for the first ten minutes of several games in December. That’s fine against Richmond, but it will kill you at Baton Rouge.
  2. Production from the point. We’re not only talking about points, though Ashley Houts hasn’t played to her November form in several weeks, but the tandem of Houts and Hardrick must also do better jobs as creators for the other players. The assists-to-turnovers number has to go way up.
  3. Where is Darrah? Megan Darrah is in a big slump, and the Lady Dogs can’t afford an outage from the wing. Christy Marshall is looking good but is still a freshman. Darrah can be a real difference-maker when she’s on.
  4. Turn up the defense. Georgia is scoring fewer points in large part because they are creating fewer transition chances. We got spoiled with Sherill Baker’s steals. If they aren’t going to be as prolific in creating steals (and who can be?), they’ll have to compensate with better halfcourt defense.

On paper, the Lady Dogs have some great pieces. Angel Robinson is coming along nicely inside. Chambers is a sharpshooter from outside. Humphrey should be free to cause trouble from the inside on out. Role players like Darrah and Marshall bring a tremendous amount of skill, but they must be more consistent. And point guard play must improve a good deal – we’ve seen what Hardrick and Houts are capable of.

Last year’s Lady Dogs emerged from December with an identity forged from off-season attrition, and they were able to roll through the SEC losing only to Tennessee and LSU. Though they were few in number, they had reliable parts – you could count on Humphrey to be strong inside, Chambers to shoot it up from outside, and Baker and Kendrick to control the backcourt. This year’s squad has yet to solidify around such consistent roles, and it could be a dicey few weeks as they try to find that identity.

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