Lady Dawgs set for NCAAs

PHILADELPHIA, PA. -- This was supposed to be the year of The Post in Athens.

Georgia entered the season with arguably the best inside duo in the country in the stalwart Christi Thomas and the spectacular Kara Braxton.

However, the idea that the Lady Bulldogs would bully their way deep into the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship flamed out at the same time Braxton's collegiate career did.

The 6-foot-6 forward was kicked off the team on Feb. 20, taking her team-best 13.7 points and eight rebounds per game with her. Thomas remains, and is averaging a yeoman 15.1 points in Braxton's absence, but, Georgia has had to shift its emphasis, putting more pressure on a trio of underclassmen guards who are responding to the challenge.

Today, as the women's tournament begins, the Lady Bulldogs appear fully transformed and are hoping an old tournament axiom -- that guard play is the key to the month of March -- holds true for six more games.

"If you have good, quick guards, you can go far," said freshman Janese Hardrick, one of the trio. "We have three guards, four guards (including freshman reserve Cori Chambers), who can can do almost anything."

Hardrick, who took over a starting spot for good in the 19th game of the season, led the Lady Bulldogs in scoring during the SEC regular season (13.6 ppg). She teams with sophomore point guard Alexis Kendrick and sophomore Sherrill Baker to make up Georgia's backcourt of choice.

The Lady Bulldogs, the No. 3 seed in the West Region, play 14th-seeded Liberty today at 11 a.m. in The Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University. The Lady Flames are the champions of the Big South Conference and winners of 19 straight games.

Liberty is led by 6-foot-8 center Katie Feenstra, the two-time Big South Player of the Year and the nation's leader in field goal percentage (66.6 percent).

"It's going to be different looking up at someone," the 6-foot-5 Thomas said.

Feenstra is the only player ranked in the top 10 nationally in field goal percentage, points (21.5, sixth), rebounds (11.1, ninth) and blocks (83, 10th). She will be, according to Thomas, "a handful" for the Lady Bulldogs.

The Lady Flames are also big on the perimeter, with three guards 5-9 or taller. Tall guards have posed a problem for Georgia's three starters, who measure no taller than Baker's 5-8. Hardrick is just 5-6.

Georgia probably will try to force an up-tempo pace in today's game in order to counteract their size disadvantage on the perimeter and to keep Feenstra from settling into position in the low post.

"We've got a little quickness advantage," Georgia coach Andy Landers acknowledged. "We have to use our strengths to try to affect them."

Liberty's guards are led by 5-10 junior point guard Daina Staugaitiene, who averages eight points and 4.2 assists per game.

"I wouldn't trade with Liberty," Landers said, "but I don't know who I would trade with. I like my guards."

He should. In the eight games since Braxton's dismissal, all three are averaging more than 10 points per game, and they have combined for 38 steals in that span.

They have also done a good job of feeding Thomas and the rest of the post players. If Hardrick can get seven more assists this season, it will mark just the second time in UGA history that three players each have totaled more than 100 assists in the same year. The first time was in 2000, when Kelly Miller, Coco Miller and Deanna Nolan did it. All three of those players were taken in the top 10 of the WNBA Draft.

Kendrick enters today's game needing 14 assists to break into Georgia's career top 10, and Baker is 19 steals short of the career top 10 in that category.

"Defensively, they are playing very well," Landers said. "Offensively, they are playing better than they have all year, but they still could play much better."

Landers would like to see a better shooting percentage and more rebounding from his guards, and Hardrick predicts she and her court mates will step up to that challenge starting today.

"When the three of us are defensively together and offensively together, there is no one who can stop us," she said.

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