vs. Alabama State
When: 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Stegman Coliseum, Athens
Web site: www.georgiadogs.com
Yep, it’s a new era for the Georgia Lady Bulldogs.
For the first time since 1980, coach Andy Landers’ team will start a season without a ranking in The Associated Press preseason poll (Georgia did claim the final spot of the coaches’ poll). The major reason for that slip in expectations: Humphrey must be replaced after leading the team in scoring and rebounding each of her four seasons.
"I don’t think you can replace Tasha," said Angel Robinson, who will be among those trying to do just that. "She was a one-of-a-kind player."
Humphrey averaged 16.7 points and 9.1 rebounds in her final season, leading the Lady Bulldogs to the second round in their 14th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. Georgia also lost Megan Darrah, who started most of her career and accounted for 9.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game as a senior.
"We have to show everybody that we’re ready to come to play," said Robinson, the top returnee along with point guard Ashley Houts. "We’ve got to work our way back up. There’s going to be a whole different team chemistry without Tasha Humphrey this year. That’s a big turnaround for us. It’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be a tough road."
Landers, heading into his 30th season at Georgia, needs only 11 victories for 800 in a career that has reached just about every milestone except a national championship. He’s looking forward to the challenge of building another winning squad, especially when others are putting his team down.
The Lady Bulldogs open the season Saturday against Alabama State.
"It motivates me," he said. "There have been years in the past when we graduated players, key players like we have this year, and we’ve always come back."
Georgia certainly has the potential to contend, even in the powerful Southeastern Conference.
Houts, a 5-foot-6 junior, was second on the team in scoring (11.7) and doled out nearly five assists a game. She’ll handle things on the outside, while the 6-5 Robinson will be expected to take on a leading role now that she’s out of Humphrey’s shadow.
Robinson put up respectable numbers last season (9.9 points, 8.4 rebounds), but Landers will be counting on much more production from his junior center.
"I think Angel can do more and will do more," the coach said. "Often times when you have two quality post players on the inside, one wins out in the statistical categories. But that doesn’t mean the other one, Angel in this case, isn’t capable of doing more."
While the Lady Bulldogs will certainly miss Humphrey’s consistency, they might be able to address some other areas that didn’t meet Landers’ high standards.
"We have some athleticism at the other spots with two or three players, which will allow us maybe to be a little more mobile," he said. "That might allow us to pick up a couple of extra points, get to the boards a little more, do a good job defensively."
Landers is looking for a better showing in those last two areas.
"I don’t think we were particularly good defensively last year," he said. "We had a tendency to scheme well and prepare well for games, but that doesn’t make you a good defensive team. A good defensive team has the ability to do a little bit better job on the boards than we have the past couple of years."
Sophomore Angela Puleo (8.2 points) and junior Christy Marshall (6.5) will join Houts to give the Lady Bulldogs a solid trio of guards, but Landers needs to find Robinson some help in the frontcourt. Among the candidates were sophomore Jasmine Lee, transfer Porsha Phillips and senior Danielle Taylor.
Taylor is the top returning scorer among those at 3.2 points a game.
"Phillips has the athleticism that maybe we haven’t had on the front line in a while," Landers said. "Her quickness and playmaking ability are different from what we’ve had before."
The coach also set up a new offseason training regimen, moving everything inside so he could keep a better handle on his players’ conditioning and maybe give them some extra motivation. No one took advantage of the program like Lee, who lost about 15 pounds.
"I wanted to insert a little vinegar in there, get some toughness back," Landers said. "We accomplished that from a conditioning end. They’ve been terrific."
Now, they’ve got to work their way back into the rankings.