Lady Dogs’ seniors have ‘a lot left to accomplish’ as team opens season against Rutgers

Georgia’s class of 2012-13 came to campus intending to change the landscape of Lady Dogs basketball.

The class has taken steps toward that goal, but some major accomplishments remain unchecked.

“I think we’re pretty close to getting back to what it was before,” senior guard Jasmine James said. “I think in the course of the past few years we’ve had some really good wins. We’ve had some really good tournament runs and we’ve had some good moments as far as rankings and stuff. There’s been some good things that have happened to get a glimpse of those glory days. But its just a glimpse so far and we want to get it all the way back there.”

Georgia begins its 2012-13 season with an attention-getter. NCAA Tournament regular Rutgers comes to Stegeman Coliseum today in a game that could figure heavily into postseason seeding. Tipoff is at 2 p.m.

“When we first got here, in the summer, we had meetings about what we wanted to change about Georgia,” senior forward Jasmine Hassell said. “We wanted to help bring back the tradition. We’ve gotten so far, but we haven’t done what we wanted to do and that’s going to the Elite Eight and Final Four and that kind of thing. I think this is our year. That’s our goals and to win the (Southeastern Conference) championship is very important to us.”

Georgia starts the season ranked No. 10 in the nation and is one of the favorites to not only challenge for the SEC crown but also make a run toward the Final Four. Much of the reason is its strong senior class that features three players who have been either starters or major contributors since they were freshmen — guard James and forwards Hassell and Anne Marie Armstrong.

The senior class also includes backup forwards Tamika Willis and Ebony Jones plus guard Danielle Bennett who is a junior college transfer. Georgia also brings back junior guard Khaalidah Miller who will begin her third season as a starter.

“We’ve really gone a long way,” Georgia forward Anne Marie Armstrong said. “We’ve reached a lot of goals but I think there’s still a lot left for us to accomplish. We have one more year and I think we’re coming in a lot more willing to do what it takes to get those goals that we haven’t done yet.”

This year’s seniors came to Georgia on the heels of an 18-14 season and a first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament in 2008-09. They advanced to the Sweet 16 as freshmen and sophomores but were knocked out in the first round by Marist last season. Injuries and lack of depth have left Georgia with a critically short bench during long stretches of the SEC season the last two years. James played through a sprained wrist in 2010-11 and a sprained knee in 2011-12.

“The end last year is definitely something we don’t want to happen again this year,” James said. “Last year as a team we had a lot of stuff that came about as far as injuries and everything. This year we’re focusing on staying healthy and working hard so we can keep that chemistry as a team because we don’t want that to happen in our senior year.”

James has always been one of the hardest workers on the team but during the offseason she took it to another level. Andy Landers, who begins his 34th season at Georgia just five wins short of No. 800 with the Lady Bulldogs, said that James spent almost every day last summer taking early-morning shooting practice before going to her internship, which she had never done before. Those extra practice sessions included a stretch of 19 straight days.

“I think they’ve changed it in some respects but I don’t think they’re quite satisfied with the height that they’ve set the bar at for the next group,” Landers said. “I think they’d like to accomplish something more and I think they’ve done more as a group this year than they’ve ever done in the offseason to get ready.”

Georgia begins the 2012-13 season with an experienced group of multi-year starters and veteran reserves such as sophomore guard Erika Ford along with seniors Willis and Jones. Landers also brought in five freshmen who he expects to do more than just provide depth — guards Tiaria Griffin, Shacobia Barbee and Marjorie Butler plus forwards Kaelyn Causwell and Merritt Hempe.

“I liken those freshmen to a kid wandering out into a parade,” Landers said. “He either joins in at the same speed the parade is going at or he gets run over. Our freshmen wandered out into the parade and became part of it right away. They’ve jumped in lock-step from Day 1 which is really, really impressive. Our seniors set the type of pace and example you would expect them to and our freshmen embraced it from Day 1 and took off with that pace. Normally it takes sometimes a year or two to build, they had.”

Georgia has had to deal with some injuries and possible attrition during the preseason. Hempe missed four weeks with a pulled hamstring and Armstrong missed eight weeks with a sprained ankle but both should be ready for today’s opener.

Sophomore forward Krista Donald is inactive for academic deficiencies but the door is open for a possible return to the team.

“She’s the beneficiary of unwanted time off,” Landers said.

 

Rutgers at Georgia

When: 2 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Stegeman Coliseum.

Radio: WRFC 960-AM.

Records: This is the season opener for both teams.

Rankings: Georgia is No. 10, Rutgers is unranked.

Probable starting lineups:

Rutgers: G Erica Wheeler (5-7, Sr., 8.0 ppg, 2.8 ppg in 2011-12); G Syessence Davis (5-7, So., 1.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg in 2011-12); G Betnijah Laney (6-0, So., 6.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg in 2011-12); F Chelsey Lee (6-2, Sr., 8.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg in 2010-11); F Monique Oliver (6-2, Sr., 11.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg in 2011-12).

Georgia: G Jasmine James (5-9, Sr., 10.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg in 2011-12); G Khaalidah Miller (5-9, Jr., 12.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg in 2011-12); G Shacobia Barbee (5-10, Fr.); F Anne Marie Armstrong (6-3, Sr., 11.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg); Jasmine Hassell (6-2, Sr., 13.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg in 2011-12).

Series record: Georgia leads 8-3.

Last meeting: Georgia won 49-48 in 2009.

Noteworthy: Georgia has won 10 of its last 11 season openers and are 28-5 in Andy Landers’ tenure. … Landers and Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer have a combined 1,762 wins. … Landers is five wins shy of No. 800 at Georgia. … Georgia is one of five teams in the nation that returns four starters who averaged double figures last year. … Anne Marie Armstrong (ankle) and Merritt Hempe (hamstring) missed significant parts of preseason practice because of injuries but should be ready for action. … Rutgers forward Chelsey Lee is back after missing all of last season with a knee injury. … Rutgers has made the NCAA Tournament in 14 of Stringer’s 17 seasons.

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