SPOKANE, Wash. – The Georgia Lady Bulldogs have spent so much time in this Eastern Washington community, coach Andy Landers is starting to wonder if he might lose a few players before the team returns to Athens.
“We have taken up residency,” Landers deadpanned the other day. “A couple of them have looked at apartments.”
The 14th-ranked Lady Bulldogs assured themselves of two more days in Spokane by shaking off a disastrous start and dramatically outplaying fourth-ranked Stanford in the final minutes of a 61-59 triumph in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tournament Saturday night at the Spokane Arena.
The Lady Bulldogs have played all three of their tournament games in Spokane (the first two at Gonzaga University) since arriving here March 20.
When a reporter joked that the Lady Bulldogs are “citizens of Spokane,” Landers cracked, “We’ll be over to your house a little bit later.”
“It’s barbecue, cold beer,” the reporter replied.
“Perfect,” Landers shot back. “Be there in a few minutes.”
Landers had good reason to be in a jovial mood. Georgia trailed most of the game Saturday, but the Lady Bulldogs came up huge at crunch time to earn their first trip to the Elite Eight since 2004 in Seattle, Wash., located about 280 miles west of Spokane.
“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 (28-6), seeded fourth in the Spokane Regional, plays at 9:30 p.m. Monday against No. 2 seed California, which defeated No. 6 seed LSU 73-63 late Saturday. The Monday winner advances to the Final Four in New Orleans on April 7 and 9.
The Lady Bulldogs missed their first 10 shots against top-seeded Stanford (33-3), and many of those shots were of the ugly variety.
“We probably need to talk to our team about this – we have scoring droughts in every game,” Landers said.
The coach spoke calmly when he made that remark, and his team reacted calmly while gradually recovering from early 9-0 and 15-6 deficits. The Lady Bulldogs briefly led 22-21 before trailing 34-27 at the half.
Georgia fell behind by nine early in the second half and was down eight at 42-34 with 11 minutes, 52 seconds left. The Lady Bulldogs then rattled off 10 unanswered points to take a 44-42 lead with 8 minutes to go.
The Cardinal, riding a 19-game winning streak, responded with a 10-2 spurt. In the final 4 minutes, however, Georgia outscored Stanford 15-9, starting with a three-point play by freshman guard Shacobia Barbee, who was left wide open under the basket on an inbounds play.
That was just one of several crucial errors by the Cardinal in the late going. The Lady Bulldogs, on the other hand, benefited from solid plays at both ends of the court down the stretch, and senior Jasmine Hassell powered inside to give Georgia the lead for good at 58-56 with 1:03 left.
Two free throws by James with 23.5 seconds to go pushed Georgia out front 60-56. The Cardinal seemed almost nonchalant in waiting until 5.1 seconds were left to take the next shot – a Joslyn Tinkle 3-pointer – and Stanford’s “Hail Mary” long pass attempt failed at the end after Barbee sank the second of two free throws with eight-tenths of a second remaining.
“We were never able to really get in a rhythm with our offense,” longtime Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “They’re a very athletic team. They disrupted things for us.”
“I thought we were terrific defensively,” Landers said.
The Cardinal made three more field goals (25) than Georgia, shot slightly better from the field (37.9 percent) and had four more rebounds (46). However, Stanford shot just 29.4 percent from the field in the second half (10 for 34); All-America candidate Chiney Ogwumike scored only eight of her 26 points in the second half; and the Cardinal shot just six free throws to Georgia’s 20.
Landers and Hassell credited Anne Marie Armstrong’s “help” defense inside as one of the keys to slowing down Ogwumike, a 6-foot-4 junior with impressive quickness and athleticism. Ogwumike showed off a variety of moves inside, sank 12 of 15 shots and grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds before 6,146 spectators.
“Chiney is a very good player,” Hassell said.
Landers termed Armstrong’s second-half defense “absolutely spectacular.” Armstrong, who had five points (including a big 3-pointer later) and 10 rebounds, also helped tame the inside penetration of Stanford point guard Amber Orrange in the second half. Orrange scored 12 of her 17 points in the first half.
“Sticking with our game plan and continuing to stay confident and keep everyone’s energy up is really what helped us come out with the win,” Armstrong said.
James led Georgia with 16 points. Hassell and freshman guard Tiaria Griffin both added 13 points, and Barbee had nine points and a team-high 12 rebounds. The teams combined for just 17 turnovers, including a mere seven for Georgia.
Tinkle, who hit 2 of 9 shots for five points for Stanford, said, “We didn’t hit outside shots, but they just kind of disrupted our play and maybe had us rattled a little bit. They were aggressive.”
“We played our traditional Georgia defense,” Barbee said.