For the 20th consecutive March, the Georgia women‚Äôs basketball team is going to the ball.
The Lady Bulldogs (20-11) earned an invitation to the NCAA women‚Äôs tournament Monday evening, drawing a No. 8 seed in the Lincoln Region, and they‚Äôll face ninth-seeded St. Joseph‚Äôs (22-9) at 5:30 p.m. Sunday in Storrs, CT.
And while there might have been some in the Bulldog Nation that quietly worried Georgia‚Äôs 19-year string of NCAA tournament appearances could be in jeopardy, coach Andy Landers was quite confident his team wouldn‚Äôt be left behind.
‚ÄúWe felt confident,‚Äù Landers said Monday evening. ‚ÄúThere weren‚Äôt any real indicators that we wouldn‚Äôt be in it. All things pointed that way. We‚Äôve played a competitive schedule and we played in the No. 1 RBI conference in the country. We have some good wins and we had some good losses ‚Äì there‚Äôs not any such thing as a good loss ‚Äì but we had some respectable losses, I guess. We felt like we were one of those teams, felt like we were in.‚Äù
‚ÄúI felt we had a chance,‚Äù sophomore Shacobia Barbee said. ‚ÄúI felt relieved. It‚Äôs hard to get in. There are several good teams that didn‚Äôt make it, so us getting in is a good thing.‚Äù
The winner of the Georgia/St. Joseph‚Äôs game will likely face No. 1 seed Connecticut (34-0), which will face Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Prairie View (14-7) in the first round.
‚ÄúIf we make it that far, we have to be focused on the goal,‚Äù Barbee said about a possible matchup with the No. 1 team in the country. ‚ÄúWe can‚Äôt let their name intimidate us.‚Äù
With its inclusion this year, Georgia has been involved in 31 of the 33 NCAA tournaments, ranking second nationally. The Lady Bulldogs reached the Elite Eight in 2013, the 12th time a Georgia team has advanced that deep in the tournament. In its last 10 tournament appearances, the Lady Bulldogs have advanced to the Sweet 16 seven times and the Elite Eight two times.
Khaalidah Miller, the Lady Bulldogs‚Äô lone senior, said she was proud to have the distinction of reaching the NCAA tournament in all four of her collegiate years.
‚ÄúIt feels great,‚Äù Miller said. ‚ÄúNot a lot of people can say that they‚Äôve been to the tournament four straight years. I‚Äôm part of a winning tradition and it feels good to be a part of it.‚Äù
Georgia is one of eight Southeastern Conference teams invited to the tournament this year, including No. 1 seeds South Carolina (27-4) and Tennessee (27-5), No. 3 seeds Kentucky (24-8) and Texas A&M (24-8), No. 7 seed LSU (19-2), No. 8 seed Vanderbilt (18-12) and No. 11 seed Florida (19-12).
‚ÄúI was expecting eight,‚Äù Landers said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs fair. All eight of those teams deserve to be in. Do we have some others that could play at the same level of some of the teams that are in? Sure. But realistically eight is probably what we deserve and what we got. We‚Äôve got two No. 1 seeds and that speaks well of our conference. We‚Äôre pretty well represented.‚Äù
‚ÄúWe dropped a few games this year but we played really well,‚Äù Miller said. ‚ÄúOur conference was really tough this year, obviously, and getting eight teams in just shows what we can do in the SEC.‚Äù
The last time Georgia missed out on the NCAA tournament was in 1994, when the Lady Bulldogs went 17-11. In the last 20 years, Georgia has won at least 20 games 17 times.