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Landers looking for elusive title
NCAA Middle Tennessee Heal
Georgia coach Andy Landers yells instructions in the first half of a first round NCAA women's college basketball tournament game against Middle Tennessee State at the Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala., Sunday, - photo by Associated Press

    ATHENS — Standing at the edge of the practice court, right below the signs validating all the success he's had at Georgia, Andy Landers appears downright chipper.
    His white shirt is hanging loosely over a pair of khakis. His jet black hair is slicked back. He keeps flashing that disarming smile of his.
    "Do I look frustrated?" Landers said, breaking into a hearty laugh.
    No one would blame him if he was. No coach has won so many games — 773 at Georgia, 855 in all — without claiming at least one national championship.
    "If I walk out of here tomorrow," Landers said, glancing toward the glass door, "I'm proud of what we've done. Now, do I wish we had already won it? Yeah."
    Landers is back to try again, having guided the Lady Bulldogs (23-10) into the round of 16 for the 19th time in the last three decades, just four wins — four measly little wins — away from finally hoisting the only prize that's eluded him.
    Georgia will face Texas A&M (29-5) in the semifinals of the Dallas Regional on Sunday.
    "We would definitely like to be that team," said Jasmine James, who hit the game-winning shot in a disputed second-round victory over Florida State. "All you have to do is put yourself in that position, get in that (championship) game. At that point, anything could happen. It's definitely a goal to win a national championship for coach because he's never gotten one."
    There's not much else Landers hasn't done — a sterling list of accomplishments that are documented on signs blanketing the walls of the practice facility, everything from round of 16 appearances (the second-most of any school) to national players of the year (there's been three of those) to All Americans (a dozen Georgia players have received that honor).

"We've been at the ultimate level for the most part for 32 years," Landers said, his voice revving up, a sure sign he's about to get on a roll. "Let me ramble for a minute. We've actually played in that game twice, the national championship game. It's not like it's been totally out of reach. Been there, done that. Now, we haven't won that game. But that's the only thing we haven't done, if you think about it."

Landers can remember the details of long-ago games as if they happened yesterday, and there's two that still haunt him, two that might've given him that title early on in his Georgia career.

In 1985, Georgia reached the title game and built a nine-point lead on Old Dominion. But stars Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain fouled out, and the Lady Bulldogs faded down the stretch to lose 70-65.

The following year, Landers expected to finish the job with a team he still considers his best ever, led by Edwards in her senior season and McClain, who was a junior. Georgia opened the NCAAs at home with a 103-64 rout of Illinois, but lost to perennial nemesis Tennessee in the regional semifinals, 85-82, even with Edwards scoring 37 points.

"The best team we ever had didn't even reach the Final Four," Landers said, shaking his head, "then we get there in 1999. That team probably wouldn't rank in the top 10. It's funny how things work out."

That was the last time Georgia reached the Final Four, and not many expect the Lady Bulldogs to make it that far in a season dominated by Connecticut, Stanford, Baylor and Tennessee.

They've already been blown out twice by the Lady Vols: A 33-point rout in Knoxville late in the regular season, then a 24-point setback in the Southeastern Conference tournament, the last in a stretch of four losses in five games that left Georgia looking like anything but a contender heading into the NCAAs.

Landers is undaunted.

"I always felt this basketball team could make some noise. I always felt like we could be good, and for the most part we have been," he said. "We roll along and do pretty well until the last week of the season. I can't really tell you what happened there, other than we played a Tennessee team that was playing as well or better than it played all year long twice in a week."

The Lady Bulldogs cruised past Middle Tennessee in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, then overcame a 10-point deficit in the final 10 minutes against Florida State, winning on a putback by James with 2.9 seconds left after the Seminoles thought they heard a whistle.

Now, it's off to Dallas, where Georgia could be facing two teams playing in their home state. If the Lady Bulldogs knock off Texas A&M, Baylor might be waiting in the regional final.

If the Lady Bulldogs are to pull off a pair of surprises, they'll have to do it with defense. The team has struggled all year to score consistently, but Landers' teams always make it tough for the opponent to do the same.

"We probably established that 30 years ago," he said. "It just kind of bleeds over from team to team. That's just the way we play."