Freshmen leading 10-0 Lady Dogs into SEC schedule

The Lady Dogs enter Southeastern Conference play tonight in Athens against the LSU Tigers.

ATHENS, Ga. — His team is 10-0, but Andy Landers would scoff at the idea that the Georgia women have been perfect this season.

Ranked No. 8 by The Associated Press entering tonight's Southeastern Conference opener against No. 23 Louisiana State, Georgia marched through an undefeated preconference schedule that included overtime wins over Middle Tennessee State and North Carolina State.

Georgia kept winning even as Landers kept adjusting his starting lineup in an attempt to find the right mixture for a team heavy on inside players and youth.

Most recently, Landers has started three freshmen, including redshirt freshman forward Ebony Felder, who missed last season after dislocating both shoulders in a weight-room incident.

Last year, Felder watched as a team loaded with senior guards finished 27-6 and won the SEC tournament before losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament. This year's team is loaded with talented forwards and centers, but it may not have enough stability and experience at guard to contend for the SEC title.

Much is expected of senior point guard Camille Murphy, but Landers says Murphy "can play a lot better than she has played, to be honest. We still need better backcourt play from everyone.''

Georgia has an unhealthy ratio of 16.4 assists to 20.9 turnovers per game.

Georgia's 6-foot-6 freshman Kara Braxton leads the team with 16.2 points per game, and 6-foot-5 sophomore Christi Thomas adds 10.6 points. Each average 8.5 rebounds, and the two young post players have made it difficult for senior center Tawana McDonald to regain her starting job after missing time with a knee injury.

"If (McDonald) wants it, she needs to get busy and get it,'' Landers said.

If McDonald, one of the top rebounders and shot-blockers in Georgia history, can lose her starting job, then no player's position is safe.

"We never know who will start,'' said Felder, coming off a career-high 20 points in last Sunday's 83-70 win over Virginia Commonwealth.

"When we come into the locker room after our first (practice) time on the court before games, we look at the board. That's when we know who will start.''

Said Landers: "That's just a freshman talking. They should know they're starting if they've been (starting) in practice the last five days.''

Felder, averaging 9.8 points, is a good bet to be in the starting lineup tonight. She will play against former high school teammate Ke-Ke Tardy of Jackson, Miss., for the first time.

Tardy, a junior, and Felder led Murrah High School to back-to-back state 5A championships in 1998 and 1999. Felder added a third state title in 2000.

"It will be just like high school, because we played against each other in practice all the time,'' Felder said. "It will be different only because I haven't played against her in almost three years.''

Felder, guard Whitney Law and Braxton are the freshman starters for Georgia, while freshman Jessica Pierce has five starts. Eight players average 5.9 points or more for Georgia, and 10 players average 10 or more minutes per game.

Charles Odum can be reached at CEOdum@aol.com.


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