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Associated Press

ATHENS, Ga. -- Andy Landers leans back in his chair, managing a defiant smile as he ponders the question that always seems to pop up this time of year.

Sure, he'd like to win a national title. No, he's not consumed by the quest.

"That's the one thing in basketball that I want to do the most,'' said Landers, the women's coach at Georgia for a quarter-century. "That desire and fire is still there. But will I feel unfulfilled if I don't do it? No. I don't think I'm a failure.''

No one else does, either.

Landers has 609 career wins. He has guided the Lady Bulldogs to seven Southeastern Conference championships. He has been to the Final Four five times. He has nurtured some of the sport's greatest players, including five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, Katrina McClain, Saudia Roundtree and Kelly Miller.

But one thing -- and one thing only -- is missing from Landers' resume. A national championship.

This is his 21st trip to the NCAA Tournament. He's 0-for-20. No coach has been to that many tourneys without winning.

Is he bothered by that statistic?

He's ready for that query.

"Does it bother me that I've played in 21 tournaments, which is the third-most in the country?'' Landers said. "No, none of that stuff bothers me. The better question might be: Would you rather have played in one tournament and won it or gone to 21 tournaments, five Final Fours, 14 Sweet 16s?''

Landers is four wins away from adding a national title to the list. Once again, he has taken the Lady Bulldogs (24-9) deep into the tournament, one of just 16 teams with a chance to win it all. They'll meet Purdue on Saturday in the West Regional semifinals.

Will Landers finally break through? Or will he remain linked the teams such as the Buffalo Bills (four straight Super Bowl losses) and the Atlanta Braves (12 straight division titles, only one World Series championship).

The Georgia players know Landers is always passionate about winning, whether it's a December game against some overmatched team or a March showdown with the season on the line.

Then again, they all know he would appreciate a championship more than anyone else in the program.

"The national championship is definitely something he's got his eyes set on,'' senior center Christi Thomas said. "That's what it's all about -- championships. He's imbedded that in us. He holds that dear to his heart. I know it's an important thing for him.''

Landers literally built the Georgia program from scratch. He arrived in 1979, only 26 years old when he took over as the first -- and still only -- full-time women's basketball coach in school history.

Before Landers, the Lady Bulldogs had spent six pitiful seasons as a varsity program, compiling a record of 37-85. By his fourth year, they had reached the Final Four.

In 1985, Georgia lost to Old Dominion 70-65 in the final game. Eleven years later, the Lady Bulldogs made it back to the cusp of a championship, only to get routed by SEC rival Tennessee 83-65.

"I think we were very unfortunate with a couple of our teams,'' Landers said. "I don't want to cop out on anything, but everyone in this business says you've got to have a little luck sometimes. Just being good isn't enough. I know we were good enough two or three times.''

Landers has long been viewed as one of the country's most intimidating coaches. He stomps up and down the sideline, his voice booming across the arena when someone makes a mistake. And he can be downright brutal in practice, forcing many know-it-all freshmen to run to the brink of exhaustion.

His standards are high. This year, he kicked leading scorer Kara Braxton off the team with just two weeks left in the regular season, saying he could no longer put up with her repeated infringements on team rules.

But Landers also inspires fierce loyalty among those who stick it out. Last week, during the opening-round games in Philadelphia, the Lady Bulldogs were cheered on by two former stars, Roundtree and La'Keshia Frett.

"We're like a family,'' Thomas said. "For them to support us and care about the program the way they do speaks a lot about coach and what University of Georgia basketball is all about.''

Thomas claims that Landers has become a bit calmer, a bit more composed the last few seasons.

"Most definitely,'' she said. "Even though he still yells a lot, he doesn't yell near as much as used to. Looking back the way he was my freshman year and the years before that, he's kind of calmed down. He doesn't put as much stress on himself.''

Landers chuckles at the notion that he's turning soft.

"Players sometimes get confused about things,'' he said. "With juniors and seniors, you use different techniques to communicate. You tell them, 'That's not the way it's supposed to be done,' and that's it. With freshmen, you may have to put them on the baseline to run a sprint or two.''

Yep, the passion is still there. Now, if he could just get that national title.



EAST
1 Penn State
2 Connecticut
3 Houston
4 North Carolina
5 Notre Dame
6 Colorado
7 Auburn
8 Virginia Tech
9 Iowa
10 North Carolina State
11 UC Santa Barbara
12 Southwest Missouri State
13 Middle Tennessee
14 UW-Green Bay
15 Penn
16 Hampton
MIDEAST
1 Duke
2 Kansas State
3 Boston College
4 Texas Tech
5 Louisiana Tech
6 Ohio State
7 Minnesota
8 Old Dominion
9 Marquette
10 UCLA
11 West Virginia
12 Montana
13 Maine
14 Eastern Michigan
15 Valparaiso
16 Northwestern State
WEST
1 Texas
2 Purdue
3 Georgia
4 LSU
5 Miami
6 TCU
7 Villanova
8 Michigan State
9 Arizona
10 Mississippi
11 Temple
12 Maryland
13 Austin Peay
14 Liberty
15 St. Francis (Pa.)
16 Southern
MIDWEST
1 Tennessee
2 Vanderbilt
3 Oklahoma
4 Baylor
5 Florida
6 Stanford
7 Rutgers
8 George Washington
9 DePaul
10 Chattanooga
11 Missouri
12 New Mexico
13 Loyola Marymount
14 Marist
15 Lipscomb
16 Colgate