Andy Landers may not be roaming the sidelines for the Lady Bulldogs anymore, having retired in 2015. His influence around women’s basketball, however? It’s still very heavy.
And perhaps nowhere will it be on firmer display than on Saturday at Stegeman Coliseum.For starters, adornments inside “The Steg” trumpet the accomplishments of the Hall of Fame bench boss that include more than 800 wins and multiple SEC crowns and Final Four trips.
It’s hard not to sense the history of the Lady Bulldogs program that was cemented through the the years by Georgia.But inside that same arena on Saturday, two coaches that have grown out of the Andy Landers coaching tree will square off when Georgia faces Mercer at 1:30 p.m.
Georgia head coach Joni Taylor was promoted to her current role after being on Landers’ coaching staff before his retirement.
Thanks in large part to the Lady Bulldogs strong season after being picked to finish eighth, Georgia hosts the first-round regional. Win or lose this weekend, the program looks to be on its way back to a status of which its fans became accustomed to for an extended period of time.
“We’ve been to the NCAA Tournament; we’ve been to Sweet 16s, Elite Eights, Final Fours. You walk down the hallway and you see trophies and statues and pictures of people who have given you the blueprint on how this is done,” Taylor said during Friday’s press conference. “So yes, we had a plan as a staff, and that started in the recruiting process. Then it started with our current players who we knew would still be here last year and this year and help us get that done. We are exactly where we wanted to be, and we still have a lot to do.”
On the other end of the spectrum, or in Saturday’s case, the opposing bench, is Mercer head coach Susie Gardner. She spent three years as a graduate assistant for Landers from 1986 to 1988, her coaching style being influenced in a significant way by Landers.
But the common thread between Gardner and the Bulldogs program goes much further than that.
Gardner played for Georgia from 1982 to 1985 and was part of perhaps the greatest four-year run in program history. Gardner played alongside women’s basketball icons Theresa Edwards, Janet Harris and Katrina McClain.
In the process, Georgia advanced to the Final Four twice, finishing as national runner-up in 1985. Needless to say, Gardner became rather accustomed to the NCAA postseason while in Athens.
“A lot of people may know I played ball at Georgia and I was coach [Andy] Landers graduate assistant so I was here for six years and I was very naïve. Every year we went to the NCAA tournament and our goal was to win the national championship,” Gardner said during Friday’s press conference. “When I got into coaching I thought, well, this is going to be easy. Let’s go to the NCAA tournament every year. As I grew up I realized it was a lot harder than it was here especially being a mid-major.”
Either way on Saturday, a team coached by one of Landers’ pupils will be moving on to the second round against either Duke or Belmont.