Has Georgia jumped the shark?

  abd06fd4a25aaa02Recently while writing about Ohio State for ESPN.com, I made a reference to “The Facts of Life” … which after a series of Internet clicks led me over to “Jump the Shark.” Just because I wanted to see when most viewers thought “Facts” jumped. (I wish I had better reasons for staying up all night, but I really don’t.)

 Anyway, for those who still might not be familiar with this phrase, “Jumping the Shark” refers to the time Fonzie did that on water skis on “Happy Days.” Its original meaning is when a TV show resorts to something absurd to boost ratings/save itself. But the general meaning of “jump the shark” has become “to have passed your peak.” At least for the purpose of this post, that’s basically how we’re defining it.

(For what it’s worth, the majority of voters on jumptheshark.com believe “Facts” jumped when Cloris Leachman’s Beverly Ann replaced Charlotte Rae’s Mrs. Garrett. Personally, I don’t think there was any *one* episode or plot development that signaled a lessening of the, uh, quality of “Facts” … but rather that things started going downhill when Nancy McKeon stopped wearing the ponytail.)

Back to Georgia … the Dogs lost that 45-34 masterpiece to Rutgers on Monday night. Georgia is 7-3, with its other losses to Detroit Mercy (that opened some eyes) and Georgia Tech.

Still … it’s early. Coach Andy Landers’ program went 23-10 last year and made the field for the 25th time in in 27 NCAA Tournaments. The only years Georgia has missed were 1992 and ’94.

So why am I bringing up shark-jumping stuff with the Dogs? Well, I was hesitant. I started writing this post, then stopped. Then started again. Finally, I decided it was worth addressing the topic.

I don’t want to sound mean or snarky. And, frankly, two of the coaches I’d most like to see win an NCAA title are Landers and Virginia’s Debbie Ryan. But I do wonder a bit if Georgia’s best chances aren’t behind the program, rather than in front of it. Georgia has gone to the Final Four more times without winning a title (five) than any other program: 1983, ’85, ’95, ’96 and ’99.

In 1983, Cheryl Miller-led Southern Cal beat Georgia in the national semis. In 1985, with a team that included legends Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain, the Dogs lost the championship game to Old Dominion.  

The Dogs’ year really should have been 1996. I think it was one of the greatest seasons in women’s basketball history. There were several legitimate title contenders – Louisiana Tech, UConn, Stanford, Tennessee, Old Dominion and Virginia among them  – but Georgia was the best team.

However, Tennessee – the titanic nemesis of so many programs _ won the title-game matchup with Georgia. Like it was yesterday, I can still see the image of Georgia guard Saudia Roundtree at the postgame press conference  just putting her head down on the table and crying.

Georgia’s last trip to the Final Four was in 1999, when the Miller twins were sophomores. Georgia won its first four games of the NCAA Tournament that year by an average of 16.3 points, but then Final Four newcomer Duke beat the Dogs in the semifinals.

You might call a program that was 0-5 in Final Fours “star-crossed.” And things have continued to be weird and unpleasant since then for Georgia in the NCAA Tournament.

2000: This was one of those years with a truly “far West” regional – Portland – but no Pacific time-zone team good enough to be a top-3 seed. (In other words, Stanford was down that season.) The “best” West Coast team then was UCSB, which got a No. 4 seed but was promptly upset in the first round by No. 13 seed Rice.

So … a couple of East Coasters had to be shipped to the Portland Regional. In a deadline killer in both Piscataway, N.J., and Athens, Ga., Rutgers beat Georgia in the Elite Eight 59-51.

2001: Oh, the horror. Of all the yucky things you see teams go through in March (if you are an empathetic person), I think the worst is losing at home in the second round. It’s just a gut-crusher for players, because they really think they are “supposed” to win those games. It’s not that teams are really emotionally prepared to lose at any time during the tournament. However, the situation – in my experience – in which they are LEAST ready to deal with that disappointment is being a host who falls in the second round.

But it happened to Georgia in Coco and Kelly Miller’s senior season, and it especially shocked me because Missouri did it. The Tigers had been in the NCAA Tournament only once in the previous 14 years, and that had been after a ludicrous run through the Big Eight tournament in 1994. Missouri had Amanda Lassiter and Evan Unrau in 2001, but it wasn’t a team I expected to even win its first-round game against Wisconsin.

Yet, the No. 10 seed Tigers escaped the Badgers in a nail-biter and then beat Georgia by 13. Gut-crusher.

2002: A down year by Georgia standards in the first season after the Miller twins’ careers ended. Georgia was a No. 10 seed and fell to Old Dominion in the first round.

2003:  The fifth-seeded Dogs looked like they had No. 1 seed Duke on the ropes in the Sweet 16, as it was an off-night for Blue Devils star Alana Beard. But Iciss Tillis stepped forward with 21 points. Georgia had the ball with a chance to tie the game, needing a 3-pointer, in the closing seconds. But Duke’s Sheana Mosch got a steal that sealed the 66-63 win.

2004: Once again, the West Coast proved to be a heartbreaker for the Dogs. First, though, to make the torture all the more exquisite, they beat Purdue 66-64 in the Sweet 16 in Seattle. Boilermakers senior guard Erika Valek missed an uncontested layup at game’s end – such a bizarre miss that it seemed “fate” was on Georgia’s side.

But then in the Elite Eight matchup with familiar SEC rival LSU, the Dogs saw it slip away. Christi Thomas, who’d been money from the line in the postseason up to that point, missed four free throws in the closing minutes. LSU went on a 8-1 run. Janese Hardrick collided with LSU’s Temeka Johnson in the final seconds, losing the ball and Georgia’s chance to tie. LSU won 62-60, advancing to the Final Four in New Orleans.

(Then again, considering that a trip to the national semifinals would have meant yet another matchup with Tennessee, maybe it was just as well Georgia lost.)

2005: On that note, it’s pretty clear that *anything* involving Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament is not good for Georgia. This particular year, it wasn’t the Orange Crush that did in the Dogs … but rather that Georgia lost in the state of Tennessee: at the Chattanooga Regional. It was Duke once again; the Blue Devils have been almost like another Tennessee to Georgia in the postseason (3-0).

2006:  Landers and Georgia fans might have thought they’d seen it all and had endured every bad break imaginable in the NCAA Tournament. But … then came this: In the Sweet 16, UConn’s Barb Turner hit an insane, no-way-does-that-go-in, circus-act 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left, beating Georgia 77-75. The only consolation was it prevented Georgia from having to face Duke again.

2007: As postseason losses go, this one was pretty routine. No. 3 Georgia fell to No. 2 seed Purdue by 13 points in the Sweet 16. Nobody was going to beat top seed North Carolina in that regional anyway. 

2008: Which leads us to last season, when the Tar Heels eliminated Georgia in the second round, winning by 14.

Now, during this decade since its last Final Four appearance, Georgia has been plagued so much by bad luck, with injuries and sickness, that it became seemingly normal for the Dogs to have little or no bench. Add to that the trials and tribulations of two talented post players – Kara Braxton and Tasha Humphrey _ and maybe the question is more, “How did Georgia get as deep in the postseason as it did so many times?”

Still, at 7-3 – and with one of the best players ever to play prep ball in Georgia (Maya Moore) at UConn and not at Georgia _ the program has some things to be blue about. Are the Dogs just in a relative down cycle that may come back up fairly quickly … or are they in a subtle but definite decline? [polldaddy poll=1186765]

About mvoepel

Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women's college basketball and other college sports for ESPN.com.
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4 Responses to Has Georgia jumped the shark?

  1. Tyree says:

    It is so funny to hear people bash Andy, because he hasn’t won the National Championship… I think Andy is going to struggle this year, but I think he’ll put a very competetive team on the floor for 2009-2010. He hasn’t gotten the caliber guards he is used to getting in a while and think that is what has been hurting Georgia a lot. He is bringing in a top flight recruiting class next year, so some people are going to be thrown when Jasmine James, Jas Hassell, Tamika Willis, and Anne Marie Armstrong come on board. If Andy brings Chimere Jordan to Athens, he’ll have a big time go-to player! She is quick, has a high basketball IQ and she can do it all. So Ms. Voepel don’t right Andy off just yet!~

  2. rvf says:

    I hate these rumblings…it started on the fan sites and now has come to life here.
    Andy Landers is a great coach and even better person.
    Leave him alone. (cue Chris Crocker’s “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE” tone here…)
    I am a Lady Vol fan but really hope the best for all SEC teams and especially Georgia.
    I hope each year that if the Lady Vols do not win the national championship that Andy would win at Georgia.
    Now…more than ever….(mostly to shut up the critics.) but he and the Georgia program are long overdue to win the big one!

  3. TJ says:

    I am so glad SOMEONE finally has the GUTS to bring up this topic….I think Andy Landers is LONG over due to have been REPLACED….the man has NEVER and I repeat NEVER won NOT one BIG GAME in his career, yet top players (recently Tasha Humphrey, Angel Robinson, Porsha Phillips (via LSU) and now Jasmine Hassell) still continue to go to his program, where he repeatedly has the talent, but NEVER gets to most out of it. Players after players come in and out of Georgia with LOADS of talent (Edwards, McClain, Roundtree, K Miller, C Miller, Nolan, Braxton, Humphrey, etc. etc.) yet he never brings out the best in them…even when they are clearly more talented than Tenn, Pat somehow finds a way to defeat Andy…and lastly, Georgia is now being replaced by Georgia Tech as the Top team in the State and it is time for the Georgia administration to take a long, hard look at their situation and maybe they will finally realize that it is time for them and Landers to finally go seperate their ways.

  4. Scamp says:

    I’m just thankful that that ululating woman fan (somebody’s mom?) isn’t in the stands for Georgia games anymore. I had to watch with the sound muted.