It may be only the third-biggest sports story in Athens, Ga., this spring behind Herschel Walker's turning pro and the men's basketball team reaching the national semifinals, but when the four surviving NCAA Division I women's basketball teams tip off tonight in Norfolk's Scope, Georgia will be there.
Georgia's women's team has won nine straight. This is only the second time a university has had both its men's and women's teams reach the final four. Indiana did it in 1973.
Georgia's women qualified for postseason play for the first time last year, and the Bulldogs (27-6) finished third in the Southeastern Conference's East Division this season, then marched through the SEC tournament and NCAA Mideast Regional.
The Bulldogs almost didn't get past the first round of the SEC tournament, but edged Louisiana State, 79-78, on Janet Harris' tip-in with three seconds left. Since then, the Bulldogs have won big over North Carolina and Indiana and taken close games from Tennessee twice and Mississippi. In the NCAA semifinals, the Bulldogs will face second-ranked Southern California (28-2) at 6 p.m. The winner will face the survivor of host Old Dominion (29-5) versus top-ranked Louisiana Tech (30-1) for the championship Sunday.
Georgia, although Harris is a two-time all-America, comes into Norfolk as the underdog. When 1981 and 1982 champion Louisiana Tech and 1979 and 1980 winner Old Dominion meet, it will be a battle of all-Americas, including the Monarchs' 6-foot-8 national player of the year Anne Donovan, And Southern Cal has three all-Americas up front: freshman Cheryl Miller and the McGee sophomore twins, Pam and Paula.
Still, Georgia Coach Andy Landers has not expressed worry about USC. "I'm comfortable with our role," Landers said. "We're peaking. We're playing a nine on a 10-point scale in terms of our ability. We find a way to win."
Defense is Georgia's forte. The Bulldogs press the length of the court and then fall back into either a basic man-to-man, 2-2-1 or 1-3-1 zone. Whatever the defense, Landers stresses cutting off the passing lanes.
"The thing that's gotten us where we are is defense," Landers said. "The freshmen have had a big impact. They have blended in so well it's like they've been here two or three years."
The top rookie is 6-1 Lisa O'Connor (13.9 points, 5.7 rebounds), who Landers said "gives us a strong inside forward for the first time. She's a natural-born leader, the glue that holds us together." O'Connor's strengths are outside shooting and passing.
Landers said freshman Teresa Edwards (13.3) "has unbelievable quickness. She can eventually be the best guard in the country." The third rookie, Susie Gardner, is Georgia's best long-range shooter.
Defensive whiz Cynthia Collins, the Bulldogs' only senior, and junior Wanda Holloway (13.5, 7.6) share time at the other forward. Holloway has given up her starting spot to O'Connor, the better all-around player, but she provides instant offense, especially down the stretch.
Harris (20.2, 11.8) is the major reason the Bulldogs have gotten this far. The 6-3 Chicago native was only the third freshman to make all-America. Harris can post up inside as well as make 15-footers, but what she does best is rebound.
"What makes her a great player is her consistency," Landers said. "She can score 16 points and grab 10 rebounds and that will bother her because she's set such a high standard. She can kill you on rebounding alone and the better the competition the more rebounds she gets."
The competition doesn't get any better than the USC front line of Miller, McGee and McGee.