The Associated Press
Georgia women’s coach Andy Landers is preparing to take his Lady Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament for the 25th time in 27 years.
Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph, in just her fifth season, is beginning to live up to the inevitable comparisons to the Lady Jackets’ bitter rival.
On Monday night, Tech earned a second straight NCAA tournament bid for the first time in the institute’s history.
"It’s an amazing accomplishment for our program and our kids," Joseph said. "Our players deserve to be in the field. They’ve worked very hard, and so has our entire staff."
Tech (22-9) will play Iowa State (20-12) in the first round of the Greensboro Regional on Saturday at noon.
The Lady Jackets, who landed a No. 10 seed despite losing to Virginia in the quarterfinals of last week’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, may feel like a visiting team. The game is in Des Moines, Iowa.
Iowa State is certain to enjoy a home atmosphere in a game that’s just 35 miles from its Ames campus. The Cyclones rely heavily on Alison Lacey’s 3-pointers and Jocelyn Anderson’s physical play underneath.
They rank third nationally in personal fouls, but Tech has guards Jacqua Williams and Jillian Ingram ranking fourth and 19th nationally in steals.
The Lady Jackets’ Chioma Nnamaka ranks fourth in the ACC and 38th in the nation with a 39-percent average on 3-pointers. Janie Mitchell, whose 16.7 scoring average is the ACC’s sixth-best, is likely to draw a lot of attention from Anderson.
"It’s a big challenge for us, but hopefully we’ll settle down quickly and just play smart basketball," Joseph said. "I think you’ll see a real contrast in matchups, They play a 2-3 defense and a halfcourt team that tries to slow down the tempo. We like to run and push the ball up the court. We change defenses every possession and we try to pressure whoever’s handling the ball."
Georgia (22-9) will travel to Norfolk, Va., to face Iowa (21-10) on Sunday in the New Orleans Regional.
Landers has insisted on his team focusing on itself to avoid the distraction of a potential second-round matchup with No. 2 North Carolina.
"Here’s my message every year: It’s not about a bracket, and it’s not a four-team tournament," Landers said. "It’s a one-team tournament. You don’t have to beat everybody in the bracket to win the tournament. The national champion is only going to beat six teams. At this point, I think our players, with most of them having experience in the tournament, have enough confidence to get the job done."
Georgia is coming off a quarterfinals loss to Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference tournament last week, but senior center Tasha Humphrey, the school’s No. 2 career-leading scorer, believes the Lady Bulldogs now look as much to sophomore point guard Ashley Houts for leadership as they do to veteran players.
"She’s becoming more and more vocal, and you can’t do anything but draw confidence from her," Humphrey said. "She’s a great player and a tremendous person, and she works harder than anyone I’ve seen in my life."
Houts led the SEC in minutes played this season. In 13 games, she never left the court.
"We’d have a very difficult time without her," Landers said. "She’s as valuable as any player we have because there’s not another player at that position who can do what she does."
The Lady Bulldogs must defend the perimeter well against Iowa, which has the nation’s No. 4 3-point shooter in Wendy Ausdemore.
Landers has insisted on Georgia playing with more swagger all season, but now that the NCAA tournament is upon the Bulldogs, he wants another boost of intensity.
Practice the last week has gone well, so at least he sees a good foundation entering this weekend.
"We lost to LSU and to Tennessee, but we didn’t get blown out," Landers said. "We were there, and save four or five possessions in each game we’re more than there."