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Post Lady Dogs looking for direction with Sweet 16 on the line

Monday March 19, 2007

Some might say that the Lady Dogs’ sluggish performance in their 53-36 opening round win over Belmont on Saturday was the sign of a team still a bit shell-shocked from their SEC Tournament loss to Vanderbilt. Everyone wondered whether or not they could shake off that loss and show up at the NCAA Tournament with a resolve and looking to take out two weeks of frustration on an overmatched opponent.

They couldn’t. Georgia played sound defense but struggled to score. It’s become apparent that the SEC Tournament loss wasn’t the cause of Georgia’s funk; it was a symptom of a problem that has been eating at the team and its coach for a while.

What’s troubling if you’re looking for improvement is that the problems seem to be more fundamental issues of leadership. "When a team plays the way it is playing right now, there is no leadership," said Coach Landers. Georgia’s top scorers are upperclassmen, and you’d expect the team to look to them, but Landers doesn’t hold out much hope in that area. "I have asked juniors and seniors to step up and assume some accountability for that, for these kinds of things, and they haven’t. So I don’t hold out any hope that it will come from those two classes."

That showed itself in Saturday’s game. Tasha Humphrey was closely defended and double-teamed, limiting her effectiveness. Foul trouble would also limit her minutes. The close attention given to Humphrey opened things up outside, but Georgia couldn’t capitalize and shot under 20% from beyond the arc. It’s a nod to Landers’ comments that the three three-pointers Georgia did hit in the game were made by freshmen. Houts and Marshall were also Georgia’s leading scorers.

In short, this does not sound like a team with the head to make a deep tournament run. Let’s not forget that this is a team that finished second in the SEC. It has beaten Rutgers, Stanford, LSU, and Vandy. It has three members of the SEC’s all-freshman team and two all-SEC team members. But they’re in a fog now and have been for much of the season. The leadership for the future looks to be brewing among the stellar freshman class, but that’s not a present-day solution.

With the season on the line, Landers has to try a different approach. "I am the leader. I just hope I have willing followers. I don’t think by any stretch that I am perfect. I think we have got a good game plan. I am determined to come out and win and kick tail if we can. They can line up and go with me or we do something else." "Something else" at this point is going home with the season over.

Iowa State is a check for this group of upperclassmen. Georgia is a better team and has beaten teams like Iowa State all year. Georgia is bigger inside and should be able to score and rebound in the paint. That was the case against Belmont also, and they got outrebounded and struggled to score inside. Those are effort stats. As Landers said after Saturday’s game, the good defense was hurt by the fact that Georgia too often failed to "clean up" and capitalize on their defense by allowing offensive rebounds. Iowa State might not be as good of a team as Georgia, but they are quite dangerous. They have been forged in a tough Big 12 conference, and, to put even more pressure on Georgia, they can score. To make things worse, the crowd should solidly favor Iowa State as busloads of fans will make the trip from Ames, Iowa.

The Lady Dogs have been to four consecutive Sweet Sixteens and sixteen overall in the tournament’s history.

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