Two perennial Final Four contenders and two members of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame will take their places on the visitors’ bench at the University Center this month.
One is Notre Dame and head coach Muffet McGraw, last season’s NCAA women’s runner-up, at the end of December. The other is substantially more familiar to Middle Georgia.
Andy Landers and No. 14 Georgia will make their first appearance in Macon in nearly two decades on Tuesday night when the Lady Bulldogs visit Mercer.
Mercer head coach Susie Gardner played for Landers in the early 1980s and has coached against him while at Austin Peay, San Diego State, Arkansas and Florida, as well as last year in her first season with the Bears.
For her, it’s old hat.
“This is a game, in all honesty, we’re trying to promote women’s basketball in this area,” Gardner said. “Whether it’s Mercer basketball, which is my ultimate (goal), but at the same time, we want the girls in this state to appreciate the good basketball that we have, whether it’s us, whether it’s Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Georgia Tech.
“This is a great basketball state.”
Mercer has matched its win total from last season and is 2-6 after getting past Belmont 64-61 on Saturday on the road. Eight Bears players average at least 17 minutes a game. Five of those are freshmen or sophomores, and two are transfers.
Sophomore Briana Williams leads Mercer with 13 points a game, and junior Alex Phillips leads the team with 8.3 rebounds.
The young Bears haven’t faced a top-15 team in a long time.
Georgia is off to a 7-1 start, which is its minimum after eight games since 2005-06 when the Lady Bulldogs were 6-2. The lone loss was to a Landers’ protégé, Georgetown head coach and six-season Georgia assistant Terri Williams-Flournoy.
Junior Anne Marie Armstrong knows success in Macon. The former Wesleyan standout helped the Lady Wolves to three GHSA Class A titles and a runner-up finish at the Macon Coliseum from 2006-2009.
She is fourth on the team in scoring with 9.6 points a game and tied for the team lead with 5.9 rebounds. Khaalidah Miller tops Georgia with 14 points a game, followed by Jasmine James and Jasmine Hassell at 13.1 points each.
“At times, we played very well,” Landers said. “Generally, we have played well, but at times, we’ve played very well.
“We are where I guess we need to be eight games into the season. We’re not where we need to be come March. We can improve an awful lot between now and then.”
Gardner is the latest former Georgia player or assistant that he has faced. She was a freshman in Landers’ fourth season as head coach at Georgia.
“I always had great respect for her as a player,” Landers said. “In the 33 years that I’ve coached, I’ve had a lot of committed and dedicated players, people that took their development, people that took their contributions to what the team was trying to do seriously.
“Susie would be in the top 15 of those players. She’s just very committed.”
In other words, she was a gym rat.
“She spent as much time during the season and during the offseason in the gym individually working on her game as anyone maybe that we’ve ever coached,” Landers said. “Her love for basketball and her passion for playing basketball, she’s probably in the top six or seven.”
Georgia is off of a 75-68 win Sunday over Georgia Tech.
“It was very important for us, for me, that Coach Landers didn’t come in here angry,” Gardner said with a laugh. “Last year, they got beat pretty badly by Tech (69-53) and we had to go there and play them like two days later.”
The final score from that game: Georgia 92, Mercer 45.
“As an alum, former player and as that next opponent,” Gardner said, “I was very pleased to see the victory by the Bulldogs.”