A year after pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the NCAA women’s tournament, Georgia could soon have the chance to notch an even more impressive one.
That is if the eighth-seeded Lady Bulldogs can get past their first-round matchup with ninth-seeded Saint Joseph’s on Sunday in Storrs.
The winner is likely to next face undefeated Connecticut on the defending national champions’ home court. Georgia pulled off a big shocker in the 2013 tournament, beating top-seeded Stanford in the regional semifinals.
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Coach Andy Landers has led the Lady Bulldogs (22-9) to their 31st NCAA tournament, tying Pat Summitt for most all-time. This is their 20th straight appearance and they’ve advanced to the Sweet 16 in seven of the last 10, though they’ve been ousted in the opening round twice in the past five years.
While Georgia lost to Cal in overtime in last year’s Spokane Regional championship, Saint Joseph’s (22-9) is returning to Storrs for the second consecutive year. The Hawks also were a No. 9 seed a year ago, losing by six points in the first round to Vanderbilt.
Coach Cindy Griffin thinks that experience could help against Georgia.
"I think we’re stronger in the fact that we’re more experienced in the backcourt and the fact that Erin (Shields) and Natasha (Cloud) have been here before and played on this stage before," she said. "We have more balance. I think we’re faster than we were last year. Again, it’s about experience."
Shields is three 3-pointers shy of matching the school single-season mark of 91. Cloud is eight assists shy of the single season mark of 241.
Georgia is led by Shacobia Barbee, the only SEC player and one of eight in Division I who finished the regular season leading her team in average points (12.3), rebounds (7.0), assists (3.2) and steals (2.7).
The Lady Bulldogs are 6-0 this season when scoring at least 80 points, and 431-6 (98.6 percent) all-time under Landers when the team reaches that plateau. But they’re averaging just 66 points a game this year.
"I think there are a couple of difficulties with getting to the 80-point mark," Landers said. "Defensively, we attempt to play you very, very well. We don’t normally allow you to get the ball down the floor very quickly, so it slows the game down. Defensively we slow the game down, we don’t speed it up. We defend pretty well in the half court."