The Georgia women’s basketball team is enjoying its streak of 19 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
It’s hoping to shake another trend: Early exits like last year’s first-round loss to Marist.
“We’re not taking anything for granted, especially after what happened last year,” Georgia guard Khaalidah Miller said. “Nobody expected that to happen.
Everybody’s going into the tournament ready, no matter what seed the team is that we’re playing. We know that anything can happen, like last year.”
Fourth-seeded Georgia (25-6) will play 13th-seeded Montana (24-7) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament’s Spokane Regional today. The winner will face the winner of fifth-seeded Iowa State
(23-8) and 12th-seeded Gonzaga (27-5) in the second round on Monday.
“The lesson learned from last year in the NCAA Tournament is you can’t overlook anyone,” Georgia guard Jasmine James said. “No matter what conference they come from, no matter what their ranking is or what their record is, it’s a good team and you can’t overlook them. We go in understanding that you’re going to have to play hard and you’re going to have to compete hard for 40 minutes no matter who the team is. That’s definitely something we were able to take away from last year.”
In 2012, Georgia also rode a No. 4 seeding into the tournament. But the Lady Bulldogs got bounced in the first round by 13th-seeded Marist, 76-70. The early exit came as a shock to a junior-dominated team that had made the second weekend the two previous NCAA Tournaments.
“I’d definitely say that it got to us,” James said. “When you’re basically used to getting to the Sweet 16, it’s kind of expected. This is what you do.
Then to go out and lose the game in the first round, it’s kind of, ‘Whoa.’ It wakes you up a little bit. It makes you understand that you took what it takes to get to the Sweet 16 the two years before that for granted.”
The three juniors and one sophomore who started against Marist last year are a year older. Georgi has a much more experienced leading edge with three seniors who have played heavy minutes for four years – James, Jasmine Hassell and Anne Marie Armstrong.
“Of course that’s motivation,” Hassell said. “Who wants to get put out in the first round? It was heart-breaking because you’re so used to going to the Sweet 16.”
Although many of the same faces are back from last year, the Lady Bulldogs look much different. An influx of freshmen has give Georgia much more depth than in recent years. Two of those freshmen, Shacobia Barbee and Tiaria Griffin, have stepped into the starting guard lineup.
“I’m a big believer in you start over,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said.
“We’re not playing Marist. It would be different if we were playing Marist.
It’s a new tournament, a new year and a new team. Let’s do a better job of getting ready. Let’s do a better job of playing and coaching. Let’s do the best we can do.”
This year Georgia hopes that the early exit from last year will drive home lessons about the dangers of overlooking opponents from non-major conferences.
“That was a big shocker for us,” Miller said. “We’re still at a loss for words after that game. This year we told the freshmen plenty of times to be prepared because they watched it on TV. They saw what happened. Anything can happen. It’s the NCAA Tournament and there’s always a few upsets.”