Lady Dawgs vs. Lady Vols

ATHENS - Three months ago, Andy Landers expected Thursday's Southeastern Conference game between his Georgia women and Tennessee to be a battle of top 10 basketball teams, and he was very frank about it.

Landers said before the season he figured the Lady Volunteers, Lady Tigers and his Lady Bulldogs would be the top three teams in the league and stay in or near the top 10 all season. No. 2 Tennessee and No. 16 LSU have mostly done their part, but Georgia has faltered.

The Lady Bulldogs (16-6, 5-4 SEC) are ranked 19th nationally and are in sixth place in the 12-team league.

"It's somewhat surprising to be in the middle of the pack," junior Jessica Pierce said.

Added Landers: "It changes some feelings in terms of the basketball team."

Now, though, Georgia has a chance to sling-shot itself back toward the top of the league as the Lady Vols (19-2, 8-0) visit for a 7 p.m. TV game. Tennessee has won 28 consecutive regular season SEC games.

"Winning this game would turn the momentum around," said Pierce. Despite their struggles, the Lady Dogs still view themselves as a threat to the Lady Vols.

"You can't lose your confidence because if you lose your confidence, you're not going to go anywhere," senior Christi Thomas said.

Landers thinks it's a good time to be facing his team's most bitter rival and pointed out Georgia has responded well against the league's elite. The Lady Bulldogs stopped an earlier three-game losing streak by upsetting LSU 80-74 in Athens.

"Anytime you have a chance to play a top five team in February, if you can win that game, it gives you a jolt in a lot of ways," he said.

Georgia needs to get it back in rhythm. Other than freshman Janese Hardrick, who is averaging 20.6 points in the last five games, the Lady Dogs have been inconsistent offensively. Thomas, a national player of the year candidate, has had seven single-digit scoring performances this year, including three in the last seven games.

Georgia is shooting 46.7 percent from the floor in its wins and 35.3 percent in its losses.

"Primarily, the inconsistencies have come from shooting the basketball," Landers said. "Sometimes, we haven't shot it real well inside. Sometimes, we haven't shot it well from the perimeter."

And then there's the mystery of Kara Braxton, the 6-foot-6 junior forward. Braxton is the team's leading scorer and rebounder but her value to the team is questionable. She missed three straight games, including the LSU game, due to an undisclosed medical condition, and Georgia won all three.

She missed 10 games last year due to suspension, and the Lady Bulldogs were 7-3 in those games and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 before losing 66-63 to No. 2 Duke.

Asked if his team was better without Braxton, Landers replied, "I hope not."

Then, he added, "You're better with people who perform."

Braxton returned to lineup Sunday and played 15 minutes against Arkansas. The Lady Bulldogs lost 71-63.

"She's out of shape," Landers said. "She's got to perform."

He was quick to point out, though, that Braxton's issues don't absolve the rest of his team from responsibility for its failure to meet expectations so far this year.

"The desperation word scares me," he said. "I don't ever want us to be desperate. Is there a sense of urgency? Yeah."

Time/place: Thursday 7 p.m./Stegeman Coliseum (10,100), Athens.
Broadcast: Fox Sports South
Records: Georgia 16-6 overall, 5-4 SEC; Tennessee 19-2, 8-0
Coaches: Georgia - Andy Landers (601-185, 25th season); Tennessee - Pat Summitt (840-165, 30th season)
Tennessee starters: G Tasha Butts, 5-11, Sr. (7.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg); G Shanna Zolman, 5-10, So. (12.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg); F LaToya Davis, 6-0, Sr.
(2.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg); F Shyra Ely, 6-2, Jr. (14.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg); C Ashley Robinson, 6-5, Sr. (8.6 ppg, 6 rpg).
Georgia starters: G Alexis Kendrick, 5-7, So. (8.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg); G Sherrill Baker, 5-8, So. (11.1 ppg, 3.6 apg); G Janese Hardrick, 5-6,
Fr. (10 ppg, 2.6 rpg); F Jessica Pierce, 6-2, Jr. (8.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg); C Christi Thomas, 6-5, Sr. (12.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg).
Outlook: Tennessee coach Pat Summitt is worried about more than the Lady Bulldogs post duo of Christi Thomas and Kara Braxton. "Georgia is one of the quickest and most athletic teams in the league," she said. "It's going to be very important that we take our defense with us.
Without that, I see them getting a lot of transition opportunities and pounding the ball inside." ... The Lady Vols are 9-0 on the road this
year. Their only losses of the season have come to Texas and Connecticut at home. .... Lady Vols junior forward Shyra Ely is a national player of the year candidate. ... Milledgeville native Tasha Butts is a regular starter for Tennessee and leads the Lady Vols in steals with 48. She
also is averaging 7.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Last year against Georgia, Butts established her career high in rebounds
with 13.

Next up: Georgia vs. Ole Miss, Sunday, 2:30 p.m., Athens

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