ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - Of nine women’s teams with four or more Final Four appearances, only three are still looking for their first championship.
Two of those, Duke and Georgia, will face each other Monday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for a chance to move closer to the elusive title.
Duke, the No. 5 seed playing in its 24th NCAA Tournament, has made four Final Four appearances, most recently in 2006 with coach Joanne P. McCallie.
Georgia, the No. 4 seed, has played in five Final Fours, all under former longtime coach Andy Landers. The Lady Bulldogs last reached the Final Four in 1999. Coach Joni Taylor, a former assistant under Landers, is trying to take Georgia back to the elite level in her third season.
“I’m happy for our players and the opportunity to survive and advance,” Taylor said. “That’s what March is about.”
This is Georgia’s 33rd NCAA appearance, a total second only to Tennessee’s 37.
For two programs to have so much NCAA experience, it’s no surprise some of that history is shared.
The Blue Devils are 3-0 against the Lady Bulldogs in the tournament, including a win in the 1999 Final Four. Duke also beat Georgia in the 2003 and 2005 tournaments.
Georgia showed off its strong inside game when it beat in-state rival Mercer 68-63 in the first round on Saturday for Taylor’s first NCAA win. Caliya Robinson had 23 points and 16 rebounds. Mackenzie Engram added 21 points and 10 rebounds.
“We knew we had a size advantage,” Taylor said. “… That was our advantage, and we made sure we did that all night long.”
Duke played strong defense, especially in the second half, to beat Belmont 72-58 in the first round.
Senior guard Lexie Brown, who had two steals, helped lead the perimeter defense that stifled the Bruins’ 3-point shooting in the second half. Belmont made eight 3-pointers in the first half but only three after halftime.
“We knew that coming into the game that they depend a lot on the 3 ball,” Brown said. “We weren’t taking it super serious in the first half but in the second half we locked down and tried to run them off the line.”
Brown’s backcourt leadership on offense was another key. She had five assists and only one turnover. The Blue Devils finished with only eight turnovers to set up the matchup with host Georgia.
“When I think of Lexie, how much she’s got a hand on the ball and all of the pressure that’s on the ball, to only have eight turnovers as a team is absolutely fantastic,” McCallie said. “Lexie did such a great job working with her teammates because it was tough and there was a lot of pressure on the ball.”
Leaonna Odom led the Blue Devils with a career-high 25 points. Odom’s only other career game with at least 20 points also came in the NCAA Tournament - 23 points in the Blue Devils’ first-round win over Hampton last year.
It was an encouraging start to the tournament for Duke.
“We got better today and we’re looking forward to getting a little bit better on Monday night,” McCallie said.
LSU, with five Final Four appearances, also has not won a championship.
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