Georgia women’s basketball returns to familiar stage despite 10 newcomers

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

IOWA CITY, Iowa — As Diamond Battles and Javyn Nicholson walked across a corridor in 40-year-old Carver-Hawkeye Arena and entered the press conference room, technically it was their first time on the couple-of-feet-tall stage.

But despite officially having a roster of 10 newcomers in 2022-23, Georgia is no newcomer to the NCAA Tournament stage as a whole.

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“It’s only our four freshmen and one transfer that has not been in the NCAA Tournament,” Georgia coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said. “That’s amazing. … That’s also maybe why we’re here. That really helps.”

Whether it be holdover players from former coach Joni Taylor or Abrahamson-Henderson’s influx of players from the transfer portal, more Georgia players have been on stages similar to the one in Iowa City than not.

Battles, Brittney Smith and Alisha Lewis came from an Abrahamson-Henderson-coached Central Florida team that went to the NCAA Tournament in three consecutive seasons, excluding the COVID-19-canceled 2020 event.

Guard/forward Audrey Warren went to the NCAA Tournament three times at Texas before transferring to Georgia last year and went to the Elite Eight in the past two seasons.

“So she’s got big-time experience,” Abrahamson-Henderson said.

Forward Kari Niblack started on a West Virginia team that went dancing in 2021 as well.

The team’s buy-in, despite coming from different cultures, perhaps was more important.

“I can’t do this on my own, and I let people do their jobs, and I let people do what they are really, really good at,” Abrahamson-Henderson said as she highlighted the importance of a team videographer. “I want everybody to feel like they are a big part of our program, and I think that’s why everybody buys in.”

That togetherness has been evident on film. Just ask Georgia’s first-round foe, Florida State.

“They are very cohesive,” Florida State coach Brooke Wyckoff said. “They’re a great team that to me looks like a team that’s been together for years. … Coach Abe has done an amazing job taking that group of players and having success in the SEC.”

The Bulldogs will be facing a short-handed Florida State squad Friday. Guards Ta’Niya Latson and O’Mariah Gordon will miss the NCAA Tournament because of injuries, leaving the Seminoles with eight available players.

Latson, an All-American honorable mention, is the team’s leading scorer. When Latson missed the ACC Tournament, Gordon replaced her. Now, the Seminoles’ options are especially limited.

A sellout crowd awaits Florida State and Georgia in Iowa City when they face off at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time Friday. The two-game session, which also includes Iowa vs. Southeastern Louisiana, sold out in 53 minutes, according to Iowa sports information.

“I feel like D1 athletes live for that moment — playing in front of a big crowd,” Battles said. “Whether they scream for you or against you, it’s just a great feeling to have.”

The anticipated crowd led to a momentary panic for some of Abrahamson-Henderson’s family. She grew up in Cedar Rapids — about a 30-minute drive north of where the Lady Bulldogs will play Friday — and her sister still lives in the area.

“My sister called and told me, ‘I’m not going to get tickets, it’s sold out,’” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “I’m like, ‘Are you OK? Your sister is the head coach at Georgia. You’ll be getting tickets. You’ll be fine.”

Abrahamson-Henderson may have some fans wearing Hawkeye gold, too. The Georgia coach played two seasons at Iowa and graduated from there after transferring from Georgia.

The same hallway that Battles and Nicholson walked across to arrive at Friday’s press conference brings back “a lot of great memories” for the Iowa alumna, and there will be some familiar faces after she walks out of the hallway that leads to the arena floor.

“The Iowa fans are my friends, too,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “I’ll go walk by the scorers table, and I’ll know everybody there. … I think they will be cheering for me, at least tomorrow.”