Lady Dogs in thick of SEC race

The difference for Georgia this season has been better balance, thanks to the freshman guards.

ATHENS, Ga. — The SEC boasts seven teams in the current women's Top 25, and No. 14 Georgia will have to play five of the other six ranked teams in the next 17 days.

The rugged homestretch to the regular season begins with tonight's home game against No. 15 South Carolina. Georgia plays at No. 18 Vanderbilt Sunday and at No. 3 Tennessee next Thursday.

Georgia (16-5 overall, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) trails Tennessee (9-0) and No. 4 LSU (8-1) in  the conference standings, but the Lady Bulldogs have the momentum of 10 wins in their last 11 games, including a 78-67 home victory over Auburn last Sunday.

"We've got six games left and we're right there,'' said Coach Andy Landers Wednesday.

Landers has good reason for optimism, because a lineup which leaned heavily on such inside players as Kara Braxton and Christi Thomas at the start of the season has found strong balance with freshman guards Sherill Baker and Alexis Kendrick.

Baker was named SEC Player of the Week Monday after averaging 17 points, seven rebounds and five steals in wins over Mississippi State and Auburn. She matched her career high with 19 points in the win over Auburn.

Braxton, who leads Georgia with 15.8 points per game, was suspended by Landers for the Auburn game after showing up late for Saturday's practice. Landers did not allow Braxton to join practice late and but after holding the 6-foot-6 sophomore out of Sunday's game says the issue "is done.''

"That's the attitude that I want to have on it,'' Landers said. "You hope there's no recurrence. I think Kara is learning some valuable lessons about basketball and about life.''

Braxton also was suspended for one game earlier in the season for a violation of team rules.

Braxton is not expected to start but will play, according to Landers, against South Carolina (17-5 overall, 5-4 SEC).

Georgia played strong defense when it won at South Carolina, 67-59, on Jan. 19. Led by high-scoring senior Jocelyn Penn of Conyers, Ga., South Carolina won at Georgia for the first time last season.

The difference for Georgia this season has been better balance, thanks to the freshman guards. Baker is the first Georgia freshman since Kelly Miller in 1998 to be named SEC Player of the Week. Kendrick, third on the team with 10.8 points per game while averaging 5.0 assists per game, also has been solid.

"We've been pleased for the most part with certain aspects of both freshmen guards in every game, but lately they've come closer to putting total games together rather than just playing well in certain aspects,'' Landers said.

"Our other positions were in pretty good shape with veteran players, so I think it's very important for our team. They know when they take the floor they have to play well, but it's not like they have to carry or pull the full wagon.''

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