It’s been a while since Georgia went home before the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
The third-seeded Bulldogs hope to continue their NCAA success when they host tournament newcomer and No. 14 seed Belmont in the first round Saturday in Minneapolis.
Georgia (25-6) is making its 24th tournament appearance in 26 years of the women’s tournament, which ranks third all-time. The Bulldogs have advanced to the round of 16 in each of the last four seasons and went to the regional finals in 2004.
Last year, also as a No. 3 seed, Georgia beat Marist and Hartford to get to the round of 16, where it lost to Connecticut.
The Bulldogs finished second in the SEC this season, winning six in a row before a loss to Vanderbilt in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
“I’m really pleased that we’re a 3,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said, adding he feared his team’s loss to the Commodores could have hurt its seeding in the Dallas Regional.
“I thought we put ourselves at the mercy of the committee, and it would not have surprised me if we had been a 4,” Landers said.
The Bulldogs didn’t lose consecutive games all season and won 10 of their last 12 to earn the high seed. All of Georgia’s defeats came against NCAA tournament teams, and its only losses in conference play were twice to Tennessee — a No. 1 seed in the Dayton Regional—and once to LSU, the No. 3 seed in the Fresno bracket.
“We’re a team that has, for the most part, been able to focus. That makes me feel good about going into the NCAA tournament,” Landers said. “I think as much as anything when you get into the tournament, it’s a focus situation. We’re a basketball team that’s been able to focus.
“We had to focus early because we were short-handed. Then, we had to focus when we got all hands on deck. Then, as we got all our hands on deck, we went into a terrible shooting slump with our shooter from the perimeter and we had to focus on what we had to do to win without shooting the ball well. So it has been a constant adjustment and development of a basketball team that still hasn’t played its best basketball.”
The Bulldogs will lean on junior Tasha Humphrey, a three-time All-SEC first-team selection, and freshman Ashley Houts, the SEC newcomer of the year. Humphrey averages 16.1 points and 8.0 rebounds, while Houts averages 9.2 points and 3.6 assists.
Belmont (25-6) won the Atlantic Sun regular season and tournament titles to earn its first NCAA berth, getting a surprising No. 14 seed in the process.
“That’s pretty good respect right there,” Belmont coach Tony Cross said.
The Bruins are led by two-time Atlantic Sun player of the year Alysha Clark, who averages 17.2 points and 12.6 rebounds. She’s fourth in the nation in rebounding and seventh in field-goal percentage, shooting 58.7 percent.
“She’s a very athletic, offensive-minded player who can score in close,” Landers said. “(She’s) a great offensive rebounder and very, very good at drawing the foul and going to the free-throw line and scoring there.”
This is the first meeting between the schools. Saturday’s winner plays Iowa State or Washington in the second round.