Oh that Andy Landers. That sly Dawg, that crybaby coach of the University of Georgia's women's basketball powerhouse. His undefeated team (9-0) is ranked No. 2 in the nation and has one of the tallest women in basketball--a 6-foot 7-inch center. Georgia has three players averaging in double figures and returns its slick All-American guard, Teresa Edwards.
But there's Landers telling local sportswriters about the colossal problem he's got sorting through the players on his talent-rich team and coming up with a starting five. Most coaches would love to do that sort of sorting.
No one seemed to be buying Landers' hang-Dawg expression at Thursday's press conference for the Transamerica-USC basketball tournament, which begins tonight at the Sports Arena. The Lady Bulldogs have stomped all their opponents thus far this season, crunching teams under their heels while averaging 93 points per game themselves. All the while Landers is crying, it seems he's crying wolf.
"If it sounds like I'm crying, it's because we are so shallow up front," Landers said. He took his team (29-5) to the Final Four last season, losing to Old Dominion in the final. "We are a good team, really, but I don't know how good. We are still searching for that fifth and sixth player.
"It got to where a couple of weeks ago, I stopped practice and just kept four players in the middle, our two forwards and two guards. Then I asked the rest of the team, 'If there is one of you who thinks she can help us, and make a contribution, step forward.' I swear it took five minutes for someone to do it."
The player who made the move was 6-7 center Barbara Bootz, who had started every game prior to that practice.
The story is true, and may illustrate at least one of Landers' concerns; he's got the talent but will he receive the leadership from his seniors to take this team of backcourt specialists back to the Final Four?
If Teresa Edwards has anything to say about it, Georgia will be there. As it happens, Edwards often has something to say. The 1984 Olympian is something of a Mother Teresa to the team, where her competitive drive and understanding nature combine to make her an extension of the coaching staff.
"We seniors (along with Edwards, there's starting forward Lisa O'Connor) take this year seriously," Edwards said. "We've got to leave something behind. We've got to leave something behind for the underclassmen coming up--a tradition.
"I just think we want it more than anyone else. If you work hard, it's going to carry over to the rest of the team. It comes natural to me and Lisa, we always talk to the other players. It's just so much drive. You are a senior and you know the ropes. You want to win."
Edwards, who began her career at Georgia as a point guard, has taken on a different role this season. She has been called on to shoot more and has responded, averaging 17 points a game. It's also Edwards who is called on to run team meetings--meetings where the elders often scold the "rookies" for mistakes. It's a role Edwards can handle.
Edwards will lead the Lady Bulldogs in the first game of the tournament tonight at 6 p.m, as Georgia plays No. 20 North Carolina. The Tarheels (6-1) are led by guard Pam Leake, who is averaging 21 points per game.
USC plays unranked Missouri in the second game at 8 p.m. The consolation game is Saturday at 11 a.m. and the championship game at 1 p.m. All games are in the Sports Arena.
Landers is worried his team is looking past the North Carolina game in anticipation of playing the Trojans. USC may have the look-ahead problem as well. The Trojans (8-1) are coming off a 117-55 win over Oregon State in which Cheryl Miller had 39 points and 24 rebounds.
That Miller is still scoring in excessive figures (she's averaging 28 points and 12.8 rebounds per game) is unexpected because of Cynthia Cooper's scoring surge. Cooper, a senior guard, is averaging 17.8 points per game, and, more importantly, underlining the little publicized fact that the Trojans have players other than Miller.
"Cooper is taking a lot of the heat off Cheryl," USC coach Linda Sharp said. "With Cynthia, they are going to have to play us much more honest on the perimeter."
Honesty, in terms of opponents stopping Miller, has sometimes meant defensive tactics stopping just short of handguns. That has not ruled out hand-to-hand combat--which seemed to be the game plan in USC's win over Tennessee two weeks ago. In that game it was Rambo Drives the Lane; The Lady Volunteers' center, Karla Horton, was trading elbows with Miller all night.
Their flagrant elbows eventually led to Miller's ejection from the game early in the second half. Sharp has since wondered aloud if Miller is taking too much of a beating while officials look the other way.
Defense will be a key as the Trojans play Missouri, last season's Big Eight champion. The Tigers are 6-2.
The Tigers are led by senior guard Sarah Campbell, who is averaging 24 points a game. Renee Kelly, a 6-1 center, is Missouri's rebounding leader with a 14.3 average.