The Rebels are coming off a solid 79-72 win over traditional women's hoops power Old Dominion in a game played last Friday night in Oxford. It's a three-game win streak the Rebs are on, but Renee Ladner knows SEC play is a different level.
"I feel good about where our team is right now," said the second-year UM head coach. "I believe they understand the importance of the SEC. We've talked a little bit about records being thrown out. You're 0-0 and you have to come ready to play every night for 14 straight games."
Georgia comes in with a 9-5 record, a bit uncharacteristic for a Bulldog team, traditionally a Top 10 squad. But Ladner knows Georgia's veteran head coach will have the Bulldogs ready for SEC play.
"It's an Andy Landers team," she said of the Bulldog mentor who has coached Georgia since Ladner was playing at Ole Miss. "They've got a big, talented post player. A heady, savvy point guard. Two wing players that can hurt you. The biggest thing I've noticed is they don't have the depth they normally have. They've graduated some key players. Coach Landers is an excellent coach, and he will bring the best to the table and get the most out of his players."
Ladner said her team continues to grow and develop and learn about itself.
"I think (the first 15 games) has made me smarter, wiser, so to speak, on how to coach this group of kids," she said. "They are pleasers. They work really hard. They like each other. They work well together, and you don't always have that as a team. When one hurts, they all hurt. They don't say much after a win or a loss. They stay on an even keel."
An even keel is probably the best way to approach the tough, lengthy schedule of conference play. But Ladner knows things are at another level starting now, and her team will need to respond accordingly.
"It's SEC, first game, at home," she said. "It just really doesn't matter what you've done. It's about what you're going to do. We have to have all the pieces of the puzzle together to be effective. We're finished with the non-conference. The SEC is a season all in itself."
The Rebels are already ahead of the game from this time last year. Last season's non-conference mark was 6-7, and the final record was 13-16. At this point the question is how many more wins will it take beyond the 11 they have now for them to get into the NCAA Tournament.
Many years seven SEC wins has been enough. It might take more than that this time, but right now all they have on their minds is Georgia.
"We have to play one game at a time," Ladner said. "In the SEC you'd better find a way to win your home games and try to steal one on the road. It gets very difficult from this point on."
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