Andy Landers, the Lady Bulldogs’ coach since 1979-80, is hardly pleased that Georgia has put itself at the mercy of the selection committee.
“Every team in the NCAA has the ability to create the opportunity and take the hope out of the hands of those who will decide,” Landers said. “We didn’t do that. So now we are hopeful, and hopeful isn’t where you want to be day in and day out.”
Erika Ford scored 10 points and Krista Donald pulled down 13 rebounds in Georgia’s 67-48 loss to No. 5 South Carolina in the third round of the Southeastern Conference tournament on Friday.
The top-seeded Gamecocks (27-3) advanced to the tournament semifinals for the second time in three years. Before 2011, South Carolina had never played past the quarterfinals.
Georgia’s concern is making the NCAA field.
The Lady Bulldogs upset Stanford last year in the Sweet 16, their ninth trip to that round since 2000. They’ve been in the Sweet 16 nine times since 2000, but last made the Final Four in 1999.
“Do I think we should be in? Yes,” Landers said. “Are we one of the 64 best teams in the country? Absolutely. Are we in unfamiliar territory? Yes. I don’t think our players understand that. Most of our team wasn’t born the last time we didn’t play in the NCAA tournament. Now, this is either 20 in a row or we’ve set a new streak for not going.”
Alaina Coates scored 13 points finished with 13 points, Elem Ibiam added 12 and SEC player of the year Tiffany Mitchell finished with 11 points for South Carolina, which led the entire game.
South Carolina filled Georgia’s passing lanes, ran through screens to pressure the perimeter and essentially never gave the ninth-seeded Lady Bulldogs (20-11) much of a chance.
Offensively, the Gamecocks’ 6-foot-4 tandem of Ibiam and Coates proved too tough for Georgia.
“I thought they played with renewed energy coming off the Tennessee loss (last Sunday), and it was great to get back to playing efficient basketball,” South Carolina coach Staley said. “I thought the perimeter players played a little bit fast today — had a lot of energy.
“But it was good to pound that ball inside and allow our post players to go to work and let everyone exhale a little bit to get their nerves right.”
The Gamecocks were particularly efficient at getting their offense out in transition, scoring often and easily as Georgia failed to defend in a timely fashion.
Tina Roy’s putback gave the Gamecocks their first double-digit lead midway through the first half. They were up by 17 at halftime and 25 after Asia Dozier’s layup with 16:43 remaining.
Georgia missed 33 of its first 42 shots and was nearly 40 percentage points worse from the field than the Gamecocks when Tiara Griffin’s 3-point attempt fell short at the 13:08 mark.
Ibiam’s layup at the 10:04 mark gave South Carolina its biggest lead at 27. Coates, the SEC freshman of the year, combined with Aleighsa Welch for 17 rebounds. Welch finished with a nine boards.
South Carolina’s thorough performance looked like a team trying to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee and earn a No. 1 seed. The Gamecocks, who won their first SEC regular season title last week with a victory over Georgia in Columbia, S.C., improved to 77-21 over the last three seasons.
Meanwhile, the Lady Bulldogs can only hope for the best.
“Yes, we deserve to be in the tournament,” said Ford, the only Lady Bulldog to finish in double figures. “It’s just reality. You have to accept it. Yeah, we’re back on our heels, but there’s still a chance.”