Mercer women’s basketball team will travel to Athens to play Georgia at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the women’s basketball NCAA Tournament. It’s the team’s first appearance in the Division I tourney, a spot it earned after winning its first-ever Southern Conference Championship.
It’s not the first time the Bears (30-2, 14-0) will have seen the Bulldogs this season.
Mercer hosted Georgia (25-6, 12-4) Nov. 19 as the Bears lost 72-54, one of its two losses this season. Georgia outscored Mercer by 10 points in the final quarter as six Bulldogs scored more than eight points in the win.
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“I didn’t really think they’d send us to Athens since we played Georgia before,” said head coach Susie Gardner. “I was really, really shocked but thrilled – not because we’re playing Georgia again so much, but because I wanted our fans to be able to travel with our team because we travel so well.
“This is an amazing season we’ve already had that keeps getting better.”
This one strikes close to home for Gardner. She played at Georgia from 1983-86 and won three SEC titles under head coach Andy Landers. She jumped in elation once the selection was revealed on ESPN.
“I reacted so differently than I anticipated. This is my 14th time. I’m supposed to be cool about this, right?” Gardner said.
The Bears were given a No. 13 seed after winning a program-record 30 games. Georgia was given a No. 4 seed in the Albany region of the tournament after finishing third in the SEC.
Gardner said the team knows Georgia’s players well, but the Bulldogs also have that advantage against the Bears.
“We play them every year,” Gardner said. “I think the fact that we know them by name again and be able to watch film of what we did the first time that maybe we didn’t do quite as well (will help).”
Mercer is led by senior Kahlia Lawrence, a three-time SoCon Player of the Year who is averaging 19.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game this season. Mercer is currently riding a 27-game winning streak, with its last loss a 67-62 defeat to Western Kentucky on Nov. 24.
Gardner said she didn’t care about who the team was playing, but rather, that they were playing close to home. But she said the best part about the entire experience was listening to her players as the selection show began.
“Sitting there next to Sydni (Means) and Kahlia (Lawrence), right when the show came on, they were saying, ‘We’re in this. We can’t believe we’re in this,’” Gardner said.