Despite playing more than half their games with just seven healthy scholarship players - and four of those being freshmen - Georgia fought its way into the 1998 NCAA Tourney. That's quite an accomplishment considered the hand of setbacks dealt the team.
Though losing all five seniors from a 25-6 squad which won a second straight SEC title and reached the "Elite 8" of the 1997 NCAA Tournament, coach Andy Landers felt confident in rebuilding his team. That was before veterans Signe Antvorskov (chronic knee problems) and Kiesha Brown (knee injury) were lost for the entire season and Latrese Bush (sinus infection) was forced to miss the first month of the campaign.
When projected starter Angie Ball sprained her ankle the day before the season opener, the Lady Dogs were left with only six healthy scholarship players for the first two games.
Still, the youthful team tackled its challenges head-on and completed the regular season 17-9, including an 8-6 mark in SEC action, and earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time in 17 seasons.
"Silver Celebration" Highlights Lady Bulldogs' 25th Campaign
The 1997-98 season represented the 25th in Georgia women's basketball history. From humble beginnings, the Lady Dogs have grown to become one of the nation's premier programs. Georgia is one of only four schools in the nation to reach four NCAA Final Fours, and the Lady Bulldogs have claimed six Southeastern Conference Championships.
On Sunday, Nov. 30, letterwinners from the first 24 teams were invited back to Athens to commemorate Georgia's "Silver Celebration of Excellence." More than 80 former and current players returned to Stegeman Coliseum to be recognized between the Lady Dogs' thrilling win over Clemson and the Atlanta Glory's ABL win over Portland. The professional tilt was headlined by former Georgia standouts Teresa Edwards, Katrina McClain, Tracy Henderson and Saudia Roundtree of Atlanta and Stacey Ford of Portland.
From One of the Nation's Most Experienced Teams To...
Lack of experience was a harsh reality for Andy Landers all season. When the 1996-97 Lady Dogs played their final game, the starting lineup consisted of five seniors with 505 career starts and 591 games played to their collective collegiate credit. When Georgia opened this season, it tipped off with players sporting a scant four career starts - all of those by Pam Irwin - and only 83 games played on the college level.
The opener also was the first time the Lady Dogs began the season with three freshmen in the starting five. Georgia initiated the 1994 (La'Keshia Frett and Tracy Henderson) and 1988 (Tammye Jenkins and Adrienne Shuler) seasons with two.
Freshmen Lead The Way
It was expected the Lady Bulldogs' freshman class, ranked by most experts as the second best in the nation, would contribute. As it turned out, Coco Miller, Kelly Miller, Tawnya Nash and Elena Vishniakova had no option. The quartet responded by supplying Georgia's individual leader in every major statistical category - scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks, steals and minutes played and combining to supply more than 50 percent of the team's season totals in all the aforementioned except blocks.
Kelly Miller led the Lady Bulldogs in scoring with an average of 17.5 points per game. All told, freshmen contributed 1267 of Georgia's 2133 points (59.4 percent). Vishniakova was UGA's best rebounder (6.9 per game), leading the way to 543 freshman boards of the team's 994 individual caroms (54.6 percent).
Most telling, however, may be the fact that freshmen accounted for 51.4 percent of the total minutes played by the entire Georgia roster during the season.
Lady Bulldogs Set Free Throw Percentage Mark, Individual Records
The 1997-98 Lady Bulldogs set the school season record for free throw percentage. Georgia connected on 403-of-541 attempts from the line - 74.5 percent - eclipsing the previous mark of 73.1 percent (469-of-642) set by the 1986 Lady Dogs.
Individually, Coco Miller, Kelly Miller, Pam Irwin and Latrese Bush etched their names in the Georgia annals as well.
Coco set four school records, including the single-game scoring mark, in a 45-point explosion against Charleston Southern. Coco also set the Lady Bulldog record for three-point field goal percentage (.875) and tied the marks for field goals made (18) and three-pointers made (7) against the Buccaneers.
Kelly tied the Georgia single-game record for free throws made with 15 against Central Michigan.
Irwin equaled the school record for three-point attempts with 12 shots from behind the arc versus Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament.
Bush completed her career by playing in her 16th NCAA Tournament game, the most ever by a Lady Bulldogs and a mark symbolic of the stellar 98-27 record Georgia compiled during her four seasons in Athens.