New coach Joni Taylor says Georgia must return to NCAAs
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) In her first season as Georgia's head coach, Joni Taylor knows the Lady Bulldogs need a couple more signature wins to return to the NCAA tournament.
Georgia missed the field last year for the first time since 1994, and Taylor, a former top assistant under longtime coach Andy Landers, doesn't want a repeat performance.
''It's unacceptable,'' Taylor said this week. ''What's been done here at Georgia is something we take great pride in and that's why players come here, to uphold that legacy and to enhance it. We didn't do that last year.''
Landers led the Lady Bulldogs to five Final Four appearances, 20 trips to the Sweet 16 and seven Southeastern Conference titles before the NCAA streak ended.
Taylor installed an up-tempo transition offense to keep pace with teams that run the floor consistently, and the early results were encouraging. Georgia went 12-1 in non-conference play, but the Lady Bulldogs' offense has since bogged down. Georgia is 3-5 in the SEC and has been out of The Associated Press poll all season.
With three wins in seven tries against Top 25 opponents, Georgia has a chance to improve its standing in the last eight regular-season games. Four opponents have been ranked this season with a trip to No. 2 South Carolina looming as the season's biggest challenge in three weeks.
The Lady Bulldogs are one of the league's better teams defensively, ranking among the top three in scoring, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage, but their half-court offense has struggled against zone defenses. Georgia is averaging just 55 points a game, second-worst in the SEC.
''It's been harder for us to create turnovers and be able to get out and run like we want,'' point guard Marjorie Butler said. ''So in a way that's hurt us offensively. Teams are starting to zone us in different ways and make us uncomfortable.''
Taylor, whose 13 years as an assistant coach included stops at LSU, alma mater Alabama, Louisiana Tech and Troy, has harped on players' lack of confidence when something doesn't go Georgia's way. It's a trait that's somewhat surprising with four seniors - Butler, Shacobia Barbee, Tiaria Griffin and Merritt Hempe - in the starting lineup.
Too much pressure is put on every shot or trying to make the perfect pass or perfect play.
''We are so easily at times defeated when things don't go our way,'' Taylor said. ''We have a lot of Perfect Patties on our team.''
Taylor says Landers wanted to boost the transition tempo in his last two seasons, but injuries and a limited roster made it tough. Georgia's season unraveled last February during an eight-game losing streak, the second-longest in program history. Taylor believes the team never got over having five players lost for the season and 64 total games missed because of injuries, illnesses or suspensions.
''I think last year we could've made the tournament but with Shacobia breaking her leg, we used it as an excuse to not do what we needed to do,'' Taylor said.
The Lady Bulldogs were sharp on Thursday night, holding Auburn to 30 points, the program's fewest by an SEC opponent, and Taylor mixed up the starting lineup by replacing junior Pachis Roberts with junior Halle Washington. Griffin and Barbee combined for 33 of Georgia's 63 points.
''This season's been different in some ways because we have a real positive atmosphere and we encourage each other,'' Hempe said. ''It's pretty evident that we've struggled in our half-court game, and Joni's been saying it all season. We have to be good every night.''