Unbeaten Georgia prepares for Virginia

December, 18, 2009

You can always count on Georgia's Andy Landers to come up with the colorful description -- it's kind of a requirement for Southern coaches -- and here's how he assesses this season's team.

His upper-class players -- seniors Ashley Houts and Angel Robinson and junior Porsha Phillips -- are handling the bulk of responsibility for how Georgia plays.

"They are pulling the wagon," Landers said. "But the freshmen aren't just riding. They give us a shove every now and then -- and they're pretty consistent with their push. And at times, they've even sent us sailing."

Georgia, ranked No. 12, takes on No. 17 Virginia in Athens, Ga., at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday. It's part of a big weekend for the SEC's four undefeated teams, all of which are 9-0. Tennessee meets Stanford on Saturday. Then Sunday, Kentucky is host to Louisville and LSU travels to Nebraska. The Pac-10's Cardinal and the Big 12's Huskers also are unbeaten.

Georgia already has victories over Oklahoma (when Whitney Hand was still healthy), Rutgers and Georgia Tech this season.

This despite the fact that Landers lost one of his most dependable players, senior guard Christy Marshall, to a torn ACL two days before the official start of practice.

"That it happened so early gave us an opportunity not to have to change things," Landers said. "Christy got hurt, and we immediately started putting things together totally differently.

"We just built it another way. The three veterans are very talented. Then it became a matter of who else would step up. I didn't have a preconceived notion about what we were going to do and who could do it for us."

One who certainly has done a lot so far is guard Jasmine James, who at a team-best 14.2 points per game is one of the top freshmen in the nation so far.

She's one of six rookies for Landers this season, which prompted me to ask about his famed six-player freshman class from back in 1993. That group was current Georgia assistant coach La'Keshia Frett, Tracy Henderson, Rachel Powell, Brandi Decker, Tiffany Walker and Kedra Holland.

"There's a lot of similarities, but it's very different at the same time," Landers said of those players, who helped Georgia to the Final Four in 1995 and '96, along with Saudia Roundtree, who came in the fall of 1994 from junior college. "This group doesn't have a point guard in it; that one did with Rachel Powell. That group was more a complete team by position. This isn't like that.

"But it feels the same in a lot of ways. Where this group has an advantage over that one is the three veterans who are with them. Frett's class didn't really have that. They usually had to walk out on the floor, five freshmen at a time, and win in situations that they'd never seen before."

Along with James, this season's Georgia rookies are fellow guards Anne Marie Armstrong and Candace Williams, and forwards Jasmine Hassell, Ebony Jones and Tamika Willis.

Sunday, Willis might make her debut; she recently joined the team after being out for personal reasons.

"Physically, she's OK. The biggest thing is she missed two months of learning," Landers said. "And she's not comfortable or confident or fluid with the offenses or defenses. But we still may play her this weekend."

What helps a lot in that regard is having Houts (13.0 ppg) to direct Willis. Houts knows everything that everyone is supposed to be doing, backward and forward.

Landers said he sometimes watches the freshmen watch Houts, who he strongly feels is one of the nation's best point guards. He can tell by the looks on their faces they are thinking, "Where does she get all that energy?"

"They see it constantly with her," Landers said. "They see the pace, the work, the quality of play, the respect for the game, for teammates and for coaches. When you're around Ashley Houts every day, that gets locked in your mind."

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.



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