(AP) – Being a part of the NCAA Tournament is nothing new to Georgia, but there’s almost a novelty factor to this appearance after missing out for the first time in two decades in 2015.
Everything about March Madness should feel new to Indiana.
The ninth-seeded Hoosiers make their first tournament appearance since 2002 on Saturday in South Bend against the eighth-seeded Bulldogs.
Georgia (21-9) saw its string of 20 straight NCAA appearances snapped last season, then started 2-5 in the Southeastern Conference under first-year coach Joni Taylor before winning seven of its last nine regular-season games. Indiana (20-11), making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 14 years, lost five of seven from late December to mid-January.
The Lady Bulldogs’ tough stretch included three losses to ranked opponents with both wins coming against ranked teams. Taylor said she talked to her players before conference play began about what could happen if things didn’t go as they hoped.
”So, yes, we were very disappointed in how we started. But I don’t think it was a shock either. Because they were prepared for a tough start. We knew we had to stay the course and trust ourselves and trust the work we had put in all summer, all preseason, all non-conference to know we were a good team and if we continued to fight and stay together we could crawl ourselves out of that hole,” she said.
Both Georgia, who lost second-leading scorer Shacobia Barbee to a season-ending ankle injury on Feb. 21, and Indiana were knocked out in the opening games of their conference tournaments. Lady Bulldogs guard Marjorie Butler said the overtime loss to Vanderbilt gives the team motivation.
”It almost like we have a little more left to prove,” she said.
Second-year Indiana coach Teri Moren said the Hoosiers being in the tournament for the first time in 14 years is special.
”You’ve got to get a taste of it first before you know what it’s all about,” she said.
Indiana has only won one NCAA Tournament game, beating Kentucky in 1983. The Hoosiers lost in the next round to Georgia and have dropped their three trips between then and now.
If they plan on ending that drought, it will likely come down to the play of a pair of sophomores. Guard Tyra Buss leads Indiana with averages of 18.9 points and 4.3 assists, while forward Amanda Cahill is at 14.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
The Bulldogs have the field’s second-best defensive 3-point percentage, holding opponents to 24.2.