There‚Äôs not much question that the Georgia team that faces Vanderbilt today in the Southeastern Conference tournament is better than the one that lost to the Commodores in early January.
‚ÄúI think we know more about ourselves,‚Äù Lady Bulldogs coach Andy Landers, whose team dusted off Mississippi State by 29 points last Sunday to end regular season play, said. ‚ÄúTo go through a Southeastern Conference schedule and not learn things about yourself is kind of absurd.
‚ÄúWe know who were are and we know we have our shortcomings and our strengths. We also know that we have hurt ourselves from time to time but we also know that when everyone plays at a reasonably high level, we‚Äôre very, very good.‚Äù
The ninth-seeded Lady Bulldogs (19-10, 7-9 in the SEC) will square off against eighth-seeded Vanderbilt (18-11, 7-9) at noon today at the Arena at Gwinnett in nearby Duluth. Other games on the today‚Äôs docket include 13th seed Mississippi State (18-12) against fifth-seeded Florida (18-11) at 2:30 p.m. and seventh seed Alabama (14-15) against 10th-seeded LSU (18-11) at 6 p.m.
Georgia‚Äôs conference schedule began Jan. 2 on the road against Vanderbilt, when the Commodores bested the Lady Bulldogs 66-58 in a back-and-forth game that was the first of four consecutive league losses for Georgia.
Perhaps the most staggering statistic from that night in Nashville was Georgia‚Äôs 24 turnovers, which Vanderbilt converted into 23 points. Until the Lady Bulldogs matched that total in a loss at Auburn six weeks later, it was Georgia‚Äôs largest register of miscues all year long.
‚ÄúThat was at that period of time when we were doing that,‚Äù Landers said of the turnovers. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve done it on occasion since we got it stopped, but we went for three or four games when we did that. Without question, many of those turnovers were unforced turnovers and those are easily correctible. I would be shocked if we did that again.‚Äù
Senior point guard Khaalidah Miller, who tallied a team-high 16 points against Vanderbilt, said she and her teammates need to be more thoughtful with the ball to avoid a Music City repeat.
‚ÄúWe have to play together and make good decisions with the ball,‚Äù Miller said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got to take the first option, instead of looking for a better option, because nine times out of 10 there‚Äôs not a better option and we turn the ball over when we try to create something that isn‚Äôt there.‚Äù
The Commodores have allowed an average of 67 points per game this season, utilizing a pressure defense that can keep an offense off balance, resulting in an abundance of turnovers.
‚ÄúThey do a couple of things defensively. They‚Äôll full-court press and they may try to trap once you cross half court,‚Äù Miller, who has averaged 11 points and four rebounds a game, said. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôll put a lot of pressure on the point guard, I know for a fact, and will try to cut the floor to keep us from getting into our plays. They do a number of different things, but they do a really good job of pressuring the ball and making people give it up, so we‚Äôve got to do a good job of taking care of the ball.‚Äù
Vanderbilt can also get the job done offensively, chiefly behind guards Christina Foggie (19.1 ppg) and Jasmine Lister (14.2 ppg). Landers, whose team has lost six of its last eight games against the Commodores since 2009, said Vanderbilt is just as worrisome with the ball as it is on defense.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm not more concerned about one end of the floor than I am the other,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúObviously, you have to be able to score more points than the other team to win, but anything you can do defensively to keep the heat off your offense is a good thing. I‚Äôm concerned about both, that they switch defenses, that they are sometimes confusing to their opponents. It‚Äôs certainly a concern but not a greater concern than their offensive ability.‚Äù
One factor that may figure in Georgia‚Äôs favor is momentum. The Lady Bulldogs, who recorded their first sub-.500 SEC record since the 2001-02 season, won four of their last seven games while Vanderbilt, which was ranked as high as No. 16 earlier this year, fell in eight of its last 10 games, including three consecutive defeats to end the regular season.
When asked if he felt the Commodores may come into the game hungrier, Landers said, ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre preparing for the Vanderbilt that we know, the one that executes extremely well offensively, the one that has terrific guard play ‚Äì that‚Äôs the team we‚Äôll be prepared to play.‚Äù
It seems somewhat evident, however, that today‚Äôs loser will probably find themselves on the outside looking in when the NCAA tournament begins. While neither team has enjoyed a stellar campaign, a good run the SEC tournament could turn some heads.
‚ÄúWe realize that our postseason ambitions are in our hands and winning will do that for us,‚Äù Landers said. ‚ÄúAs far as this being possibly our last game, that hasn‚Äôt even crossed my mind. And I don‚Äôt think the players are dwelling on that. I think we see opportunities heading into this tournament.‚Äù
‚ÄúNo one wants to lose the first game and be out of the tournament first,‚Äù Miller added. ‚ÄúThat makes us want to play even harder. We want to win the tournament, and to do that, you‚Äôve got to continue to win every day. If we lose (today), there‚Äôs no game to play on Sunday. That‚Äôs over with. We have to win and everybody understands that at this point.‚Äù