During the early part of the season, Georgia looked like a strong candidate to reach the Final Four. The Bulldogs still could make it there, but they'll need to play better than they did down the stretch.
After receiving the fifth seed in the Sacramento region, the Bulldogs seek to recapture their early season form Saturday night in a first-round matchup against No. 12 seed Tulane.
Georgia (23-8) opened the season in stunning fashion, winning its first 16 games and rising as high as No. 6 in the AP poll. The Bulldogs were 18-1 after their most impressive victory, a 53-50 home win over then-No. 3 Tennessee on Jan. 21. However, they stumbled to a 5-7 mark the rest of the way, and lost 67-52 to Mississippi State in the SEC tournament semifinals March 5.
"It's been an interesting year. It's been a challenging year," coach Andy Landers told the Bulldogs' official Web site. "When we started 16-0, we were excited about the start, yet we understood, as coaches, that in three or four of those games we came from 10 down to win it at the end."
Some of Georgia's late-season struggles were due to two senior starters - Ashley Houts and Angel Robinson - battling injuries. Houts (ankle) didn't miss any games while Robinson (ankle, head) sat out four, but both were limited in practice. After the 15-day layoff, both are expected to take the court for this tournament without a problem.
Houts averages a team-high 12.4 points, and scored 16.5 per game in her last six.
Houts will try to lead Georgia deeper into the tournament than last year, when she had eight points while Robinson had nine in a 58-47 opening-round loss to Arizona State. Coincidentally, the Bulldogs will be playing the first two rounds on the Sun Devils' home floor in Tempe, Ariz.
While Georgia cooled down the stretch, the Green Wave (26-6) may be playing their best basketball of the season. Tulane has won 10 of 11 and four straight, including a run through the Conference USA tourney that culminated in a 62-54 championship-game victory over UAB.
That win gave the Green Wave a bid to their first NCAA tournament since 2002, three years before Hurricane Katrina ravaged their home city of New Orleans.
"This is very personal to me because of the things that have happened to our program, with Katrina and coming back and trying to rebuild this program," said coach Lisa Stockton, who took Tulane to the NCAAs in her first nine seasons at the school.
"They trusted us that we could be back, so that probably makes this even more special for that reason."
Tulane features a balanced, experienced offense led by senior Chassity Brown (13.2 ppg) and juniors Danielle Nunn (11.3) and Tiffany Aidoo (10.1). Eight different Green Wave players have scored at least 16 points in a game this season.
This is the first meeting between Georgia and Tulane. The winner will face either fourth-seeded Oklahoma State or No. 13 seed Chattanooga in the second round.