The University of Georgia women’s basketball team is trying to return to the Final Four for the first time in 14 years.
The Golden Bears of California have never been to a Final Four.
That sets the stage for what could be a knockdown battle when the fourth-seeded Lady Bulldogs (28-6) square off with second-seeded Cal (31-3) tonight at the Arena. Tipoff is at 6:30.
Georgia’s players, particularly its three starting seniors, came into the season set on getting the Bulldogs back where they believed they belonged – in the Final Four. Georgia is seeking a sixth trip to the Big Dance.
“The senior class … this is our fourth NCAA tournament, and we have been to three Sweet 16s,” guard Jasmine James said. “So to finally make the next step and go to the Elite Eight and now to be going into another game to try to compete to go to the Final Four is definitely back to where Georgia basketball needs to be – trying to compete for a national championship.”
Georgia coach Andy Landers spoke at length about how he spent considerable time with James, Jasmine Hassell and Anne Marie Armstrong when they were freshmen because he believed he had to change a mindset within his program.
“We were still going to the NCAA tournament every year, even advancing,” Landers explained. “But we had slipped inside our own house. It can happen regardless. Coaching is like raising children. You can do your best with your children but you don’t always get the desired result every single day. Georgia basketball was broken in a sense, but it wasn’t shattered. We hadn’t fallen off the map. The pieces that had made Georgia basketball special had slipped. I knew that it was going to be hard to get the giant back up.”
Landers added that Georgia and its players have accomplished everything over the years except one thing – win a national title.
To get that opportunity, the Bulldogs must overcome the new kid on the block.
Cal checked off a “never” Saturday when it handled LSU, advancing to the Elite Eight. The next box to check is one win away.
So how do the Bears tackle the next “never”?
“Just be us (and) embrace the moment,” Cal point guard Brittany Boyd said. “Be happy that we’re here but don’t be satisfied. And do something that Cal has never done before.”
“We just have to be the best version of ourselves,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “We don’t have to do anything different. They know it’s a bigger stage and I don’t think that scares any of us.
“Georgia is really, really good. I don’t feel like all of a sudden we have to change our routines, or the way that we prepare or the way we act in the locker room.”
The Bulldogs will have their hands full against the Bears, who feature a den of gifted guards.
“This is a high-energy team,” Landers said. “They get it on. They bring it. They’re going to play hard. They’re good in transition and they’re very good in the halfcourt. They have all the parts.”
One of the biggest things the Bulldogs may have to overcome is themselves – particularly on offense.
Georgia has struggled mightily at times scoring. Still, the Bulldogs are capable of going off at any moment, too. Case in point was the school-record 12 3-pointers made in a Sweet 16-qualifying win over Iowa State.
“We’re used to it,” Landers said of the droughts. “People look at us and go, ‘Well, they don’t panic, you stay the course.’ We don’t have a choice. That’s who we are.”
Landers said his team “caved” a couple of times this season.
“We shouldn’t have six losses,” he said. “We have lost three times because we caved.”
Landers has been encouraged in the tournament.
“The thing that I’ve been saying to them lately is trust your instincts,” he said. “And they have started to do that.”
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