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Post Lady Dogs go for history in home SEC opener

Thursday January 7, 2010

The Lady Dogs will attempt to establish the program’s best start ever tonight in the SEC home opener against Kentucky. Georgia is off to a 14-0 start and won their first conference game at Alabama on Sunday.

It’s fair to say that the program’s biggest challenges lay ahead with most of a competitive SEC schedule remaining. In-season winning streaks don’t mean much if they don’t turn into successful seasons. But the perfect start to this season is noteworthy because it comes on the heels of a disappointing 2008-2009 season which saw the program lose more than three consecutive games for the first time. That team made the NCAA Tournament by the slimmest of margins, but the state of the program didn’t sit well with anyone.

The offseason wasn’t kind to the Lady Dogs. A starting guard transferred. Senior Christy Marshall was lost for the year during the preseason due to a knee injury. That left the team with only five returning players with any kind of experience.

Hopes were lifted by one of the strongest recruiting classes of the decade. The story of the season so far has been those newcomers meshing well with a quality group of veterans. Fans know all about the stars – Houts, Phillips, and Robinson. The improvement of sophomore Meredith Mitchell has been key in replacing the production and athleticism lost when Marshall went down. The freshmen have stepped right in – Jasmine James has already won SEC Freshman of the Week honors several times and leads the team in scoring. Georgia’s top prep prospect, Anne Marie Armstrong, continues to gain confidence and has hit some big shots in big situations. Jasmine Hassell has been a very important player off the bench providing depth on the frontcourt behind Phillips and Robinson. Ebony Jones and Tamika Willis give Landers still more options at the forward spot.

Make no mistake – the team hasn’t been dominant. They’ve had to come from behind several times to win close, low-scoring games. The difference and key of course is that they won. They’ve come up with the defensive stop or clutch shot to preserve their record. What’s impressive is that many of those big plays have come from the newcomers who have shown the steadiness and effort you might not expect from freshmen. That tough and competitive nonconference slate that led to so many close games has prepared Georgia for the grind of SEC play where they’ll face that kind of test every night.

Unfortunately the possibility of frozen precipitation in north Georgia this evening will likely reduce the crowd for this potentially historic game. Kentucky’s a tough opponent and has improved in recent years under Matthew Mitchell. They beat Georgia twice just two seasons ago and pushed the Lady Dogs to the buzzer last year in Lexington. They’ve been off to a good start themselves this year with only one loss against them. They’re led by forward Victoria Dunlap, a dominating presence inside who averages nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Key for Georgia will be applying defensive pressure. Kentucky turned the ball over 29 times in their only loss of the year, and Georgia has been very effective in creating turnovers to spark their offense this year. Georgia has struggled scoring at times, shooting under 40% for the season, so points created by defense could make a big difference tonight. Georgia’s inside duo of Porsha Phillips and Angel Robinson will have their hands full with Dunlap, but they’ll also have to avoid foul trouble and find ways to counter her on the offensive end.

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