<
>

Georgia's Landers still chasing national title

3/25/2004 - Georgia Bulldogs

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.