How the Lady Bulldogs have navigated the San Antonio bubble

Georgia has been in San Antonio since Wednesday ahead of Monday's tournament opener vs. Drexel.

Hey guys. Sorry it has been a while. I had some personal stuff come up and am covering the tournament for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I will not stop the newsletter, however, and hope to continue bringing you my best work.

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SAN ANTONIO, Tex. — Joni Taylor sat upstairs in her house while starting to pack her bags for an NCAA tournament run that Georgia hopes is three weeks long. She noticed a rarity when her husband came to check in.

Darius Taylor had already been in the Bradenton, Fla. WNBA bubble over the summer. Now, Joni was next. At different times, spouses were headed to the bubble.

“Whoa, you’re packing too much,” Darius said when greeting his wife.

“No, I’m not,” Joni said. “No, I’m not!”

“I’m telling you,” Darius replied, as Joni recalled. “I packed up all of this stuff and ended up not using it.”

Joni packed her bags as originally planned. She didn’t want to need anything she didn’t have, and didn’t mind the excess. Welcome to yet another chapter in the Covid-19 pandemic and all of the weirdness that a basketball bubble presents.

Georgia has been in San Antonio for a number of days and held practices ahead of Monday’s NCAA tournament opener against Drexel (noon, ESPN2). Through the challenges of either staying in a hotel on a basketball court, the Lady Bulldogs have found a way to navigate their way.

“Our experience has been normal,” Taylor said.

Once Georgia arrived by the Alamo after its fancy charter flight out of Atlanta, the protocols related to the pandemic came into full force. Everyone had to get two negative tests and quarantine while awaiting the results. For some, it wasn’t much of a problem.

Senior point guard Gabby Connally had it made. She kicked her feet back, turned on some streaming apps and caught up on Good Girls and This is Us. Each show ended on a cliffhanger, she said, but got caught up to the latest episodes. Her binging hobbies were complemented by a care package from Taylor, which included a novel, journal and a coloring book among other things.

“Nothing too fancy. Some people might call it boring,” Connally said. “I think it's fun.”

Taylor, meanwhile, had her eyes glued to film. She’s trying to create a game plan for Georgia to slow down the Drexel guard duo of Hannah Nihill and Keishana Washington. She also has a TRX machine in her hotel room, because the sixth-year head coach can’t miss workouts.

“I'm trying to continue my normal routine as much as possible,” Taylor said. “I've been around a computer for most of the time.”

As all of the 64 teams in the field arrived in San Antonio, a discrepancy began to show and go viral on social media. The men’s basketball tournament had a full weight room, while the women had a set of dumbbells and a yoga mat. A number of players reported subpar food options and a “swag bag” of welcome gifts that was much lesser than what the men received.

Taylor voiced her displeasure with the inequities and called for the NCAA to make change. The governing body eventually did with converting an area of the convention center into a full weight room. Nonetheless, Georgia came prepared.

A 90-page manual was issued to teams upon their selection into the tournament. All of the protocols — including the lack of workout equipment until teams reached the Sweet 16 — were clearly stated.

Georgia asked its athletic department to purchase their own equipment so strength-and-conditioning coach Joshua Rucci could run the appropriate sessions. Meredith Mitchell, the director of basketball operations, ensured that the Lady Bulldogs had nice lodging accommodations and the usual food they would have for road games.

In many ways, Mitchell wore the superhero’s cape.

“We were not affected by what you see on social media,” Taylor said. “We were told it would be that way.”

Early on, Georgia has had a positive experience in the San Antonio bubble. Everybody packed enough clothes, too, because the Lady Bulldogs don’t plan on leaving soon.

The first test is Monday against Drexel.

“We plan on being here for three weeks,” Taylor said.