The wintry weather forced the Georgia women’s basketball team to change its original travel plans, but the Lady Bulldogs are still subject to dealing with turbulence against No. 14 Texas A&M tonight.
Georgia (16-7, 4-6 Southeastern Conference) left Athens Tuesday afternoon, a day ahead of schedule, to get to College Station for its rematch with the Aggies. Texas A&M (18-6, 8-2) defeated the Lady Bulldogs 58-44 on Jan. 12 in Athens; tonight’s game represents Georgia’s first visit to Texas A&M.
Coach Andy Landers’ only concern with the adjusted itinerary was the disruption of the team’s customary road procedures, although he did see a silver cloud within. Georgia is 3-5 in road games this season while Texas A&M is an intimidating 11-1 (including a 4-1 league record) at Reed Arena.
“It takes you out of a routine, so you never know,” Landers said. “I’m a huge believer that teams and players function better when they’re in a routine. That said, I really think it could be of great benefit to us because it’s going to allow us time — time that we can spend watching film.
“We can’t go to chemistry class; we can’t help that. I wish we were. But we’ll fill that time with a real thorough preparation. Our players have an opportunity.”
Junior guard Erika Ford said a change from the usual sequence of events isn’t problematic.
“We get to go there and get adjusted sooner than we normally would,” Ford, who earned high-scoring honors in Georgia’s last two games, said. “We can get on the floor earlier than we normally do and we can practice in there and get adjusted to the rims and the lighting and everything. That’s definitely a positive.”
And even though her day was to be spent in a radically different mode than most of her UGA classmates, sophomore guard Shacobia Barbee summed it up pretty well for most of the student body.
“No class is fine with me,” said Barbee, who leads the team in a half-dozen statistical categories, including points (262), average (12.5), rebounds (165, 7.9 per game) and steals (61, 2.9 per game). “I think we’ll pretty much be doing the same thing as we would be if we were here, except not having class and having practice a little earlier than usual.”
Texas A&M, whose only SEC losses came at the hands of No. 8 Tennessee and No. 16 Vanderbilt, shares with Georgia a keen focus on defense, perhaps at the hands of point production. The Aggies are ranked 10th in the conference in points per game at 67.9, with Georgia ranked 12th at 67.5. But in scoring defense, Texas A&M is third (56.6) and the Lady Bulldogs are fourth (57.3) in the league.
“That’s not unusual,” Landers said. “When you’re pretty good defensively, you tend to slow the game down. When you’re bad, the other team just comes down and scores on you. It’s not unusual for those two things, particularly in our defensive styles. We’re not teams that force you into turning the ball over. If we were, it would probably tack eight or 10 more points on the board.”
When asked if he felt tonight’s game would be another low-scoring outing for both teams, Landers said, “The indicators point that way but I’m not so sure that will be the case. If we execute, what does that mean? If we cut fast, cut quick, use screens, set screens, we’re capable of putting more points up the first game. And they are, too. … I think it could go either way.”
Barbee, who also leads the SEC in steals, opined that if both teams — who between them tout seven players who average double-digit points — played to their strengths, there could be a dearth of points.
“The way that we and Texas A&M play defense, there’s the potential for a low-scoring game but then again, some of our players could go for 20 (points) and some of our players could go for 20,” she said. “You never know how the score will be, but defense-wise, both teams are right on point and at this point in the season, we’re both really good at disrupting the other teams. That’s a key.”
When the two teams met last month, Texas A&M — which has never lost to Georgia — was in the midst of a six-game winning streak to open SEC play and Georgia had lost its first two conference games for the first time in two decades (and would go on to an 0-4 start in league play). Landers is confident he’ll take a different team to the floor tonight.
“Here’s what I remember,” Landers said. “I wasn’t impressed with the enthusiasm we had coming into that game. We’re playing at home against a good A&M team. We’d been beaten a couple of times. There should have been a fight there that I didn’t see. That’s what we’ve got to have. Now we’re at their place. We talk about ‘must-win’ situations, and my take on it is you must win ’em all.
“The carrot that’s dangling out in front of us now is we’ve got a chance to go to College Station and beat a top 20, and in my view, probably a top 12 or top 13 team in the country on their court. Well, that will get you something. The next two days, we’re going to get excited about this game.”