As typical as it is to see Tennessee perched atop the SEC, Georgia enters Monday night's showdown with the Lady Vols with something new up its sleeve -- positive reinforcement.
Georgia was the last SEC team to beat Tennessee, which it did 53-50 in Athens last January. Since then, the fourth-ranked Lady Vols (25-2, 13-0) have won 24 consecutive SEC regular-season games and another three in last year’s SEC tournament.
The Jan. 21 loss was the Lady Vols’ first to Georgia since 2004.
“I think they’ll definitely be hungry and be ready for that game with us beating them here last year,” said Georgia sophomore guard Jasmine James, who went 2-for-12 with eight points last year while beating the Vols. “We just have to go in there and be aggressive and try to play the way we played [against Kentucky].”
James was a three-time Memphis prep player of the year but did not get recruited by Tennessee, but doesn't use that as extra motivation.
“I’m happy here at the University of Georgia,” she said. “Last year worked out great, and I still have three more years to go.”
This matchup also features the winningest combination of opposing coaches in the history of women’s college basketball: 852 for Georgia coach Andy Landers, 1,062 for Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.
“Andy is going to have his team ready to play,” Summitt said. “We have to be tough-minded and play great defense, [maintain] ball security and get after them. I think we really have to impose our will on them in the open court, as well as in the paint."
Those are two areas the Lady Bulldogs (20-6, 10-3) dominated on Friday night, when they rolled up an 18-point victory over No. 19 Kentucky to secure sole possession of second place in the SEC. The Lady Bulldogs played as complete a game as they have all season to build momentum for Monday night.
“We played our heart out,” senior forward Porsha Phillips said. “We played with a lot of pride, and I think we just take that to Tennessee.”
The game will air on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. This is Tennessee’s annual “Live Pink” Bleed Orange game for breast cancer awareness, so Thompson-Boling Arena won’t have his usual tint.
Tennessee has already clinched at least a share of the SEC regular season championship and can take it outright with a win over Georgia.
Georgia hasn’t won in Knoxville since 1996, five years after James was born. The Lady Bulldogs haven’t won back-to-back games in this series since the mid-1980s.
“We had that plan last year, kids executed it extremely well and we won a basketball game,” Landers said. “This is different. We’re going to Knoxville. We’re not playing at home. But one of the things we’ve practiced all year long is managing our minds.”
Heading into the Kentucky game, Landers said that meant overcoming both mental and physical fatigue and focusing on the fact that the Bulldogs had only four games left in the regular season. For Monday’s game, he can draw on recent success.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com