The good news for Georgia’s women’s basketball program is that a strong season has earned the Lady Dawgs home-court advantage to open to the NCAA tournament.
The bad? They may as well be in the tournament’s version of the ‘group of death.’ All four teams playing in the first two rounds at Stegeman Coliseum are ranked in the Top 25.
Georgia (25-6), seeded fourth, opens play at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday in Stegeman Coliseum against one of the hottest mid-major programs in the country, 13th-seeded Mercer. The Bears, coached by former Georgia player and assistant Susie Gardner, are in the field for the first time in school history and have won 27 games in a row, enough to earn them a No. 25 national ranking in the Associated Press poll. Georgia is ranked 18th.
One of two teams to beat Mercer this season? Georgia back on Nov. 24 by a score of 72-54. In fact, the Lady Bulldogs have won 21 in a row against Mercer, the last loss to the Bears being in 1980.
The selection committee did Georgia little favors with its draw following a season in which the Lady Bulldogs finished second in the SEC standings after being picked to finish eighth in the preseason, and each of Georgia losses this season are to top-25 teams.
In facing Mercer, the Lady Dawgs are in a no-win situation. A win over Mercer is an afterthought - a power conference team should, in theory take care of a mid-major in most cases. A loss? For Mercer, it’d rank pretty high in program history, second only to the men’s basketball program upsetting Duke a few years ago (Yes, folks in Macon still talk about it).
If Georgia gets past Mercer, it’d face the winner of fifth-seeded Duke and 12th seed Belmont in Athens. Duke finished fourth in the ACC and is ranked 20th, while Belmont (31-3) is in the field as the champions of the Ohio Valley Conference and ranked 23rd nationally. Duke and Belmont play at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
And after a gauntlet of a two rounds of grueling play in Athens, the winner out of Georgia, Mercer, Duke and Belmont advances to the Sweet 16 in Albany, NY where the very likely opponent will be top-ranked Connecticut.
The good news for Georgia that it’s in the dance. It may not have the most desireable dance partner, but it does have a dance partner.