Can the Lady Bulldogs break a 24-year streak and win at Tennessee?
Georgia hasn't won in Knoxville since Dec. 8, 1996.
Twenty-four years, one month and seven days. Or 8,804 days also works.
No matter how you slice it, Georgia women’s basketball has gone to Knoxville, Tennessee over the past two decades-plus with the thought of a losing streak looming over its head. The Lady Bulldogs’ last win on Tennessee’s hostile home floor came on Dec. 8, 1996, when Saudia Roundtree and Co. beat the fourth-ranked Lady Volunteers.
Since then, the drought has been long. Many of Georgia’s losses at Tennessee have been double-digit defeats. A 3-22 road record is the wart on a rivalry that has a legacy of memorable moments.
“How are you in women's basketball and not understand the tradition of Tennessee and the rivalry for that matter?” Georgia head coach Joni Taylor said. “I grew up watching it and being a fan of it — even as a player at Alabama. When Georgia and Tennessee played, you always watched that game.”
Georgia (10-1, 2-1 SEC) gets a chance to snap it on Thursday night (6:30 p.m., SEC Network). Tennessee, now ranked at No. 23, provides the Lady Bulldogs a chance to boost their resume and add a signature SEC road win to its slate. Entering play, Georgia has already built a strong postseason ranking with a NET ranking of 15th and listed as a No. 4 seed in the latest bracket projection update by ESPN’s Charlie Creme.
Some players, especially those getting the experience for the first time, might take a look at Tennessee’s storied history. A glance upward reveals the championship banners that illustrate a rich program legacy of championships, mainly behind legendary head coach Pat Summitt.
But, after that moment, the focus remains in tact. Georgia likes its chances to topple one of women’s basketball’s beloved programs.
“I haven't played against Tennessee or been to the gym before,” said junior guard Mikayla Coombs, who previously played at UConn when its rivalry with the Lady Volunteers was on pause. “I'm really excited to experience all of that and the history there. It's another opportunity to go and have a good SEC game.”
The next test of reaching the goals, however, is squashing the bug by getting a win on the Thompson-Boling Arena floor. Georgia and Tennessee will play twice this season as the rivalry’s next edition will come at Stegeman Coliseum in February.
Taylor and her team have readied for this moment by playing the catchy tune of ‘Rocky Top’ in the gym over the two days of practice and preparation. Georgia anticipates a louder atmosphere, despite a limited crowd due to Covid-19, with a rabid fan base.
“It's very orange. I'm not going to say it's distracting, but very orange,” Taylor said. She has had numerous encounters with the Lady Volunteers’ fan base over many seasons of playing and coaching in the SEC. “There's a great appreciation for the fans, because they're some of the long-standing fans in women's basketball.”
Georgia’s depth and size gives it an opportunity to match Tennessee’s firepower more than it has in quite some time. The Lady Volunteers (8-1, 2-0 SEC) have one blemish on their schedule — a loss against West Virginia — but also notched a key win against a formidable Arkansas team on Jan. 7.
Much like Georgia, Kellie Harper’s Tennessee team prides itself on defense. The Lady Volunteers allow an average of 57.2 points per game while Georgia nearly mirrors it at 55.8. Tennessee’s offensive numbers are also similar at 75.3 points per game, compared to 77.5 for Georgia and its fast-paced offense.
Tennessee features one of the SEC’s premier talents in Rennia Davis, who averages 13.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. The leading scorer, however, is junior Rae Burrell with 17.8 points per game. Georgia counters with four seniors in its starting lineup, which is led by consistent post presence Jenna Staiti with her 15.2 points and eight rebounds per game.
“Anybody they put on the floor is capable of scoring in bunches and having career nights,” Taylor said, who is woeful of Tennessee’s multi-faceted offensive abilities. “They're that offensively talented, so we have to do a great job of helping each other and not getting caught up in 1-on-1 defense. We can't leave our buddies on an island. We have to be able to have layers and help.”
Georgia gets another chance at a significant SEC win and can make a statement on a rival’s home floor.
It might be 24 years since a win last happened, but the Lady Bulldogs could have the pieces to finally end their drought.
“I think we have a really good team with a chance to do some big things in the SEC,” Coombs said. “I'm definitely happy with the way we've done.”