Andy Landers was ready for his team to pull away at any time.
He finally got his wish.
Georgia broke things open in the early stages of the second half and rolled to an 80-43 win Tuesday night over Mercer at the University Center in women’s basketball.
“They’re better than they were last year,” Landers said of the Bears, who are coached by former Georgia guard and graduate assistant Susie Gardner. “They’re athletic, they’ve got some size inside, and they’re young, but they’re headed in the right direction.”
Gardner’s team was competitive much longer Tuesday than against Georgia last year or Auburn to start this year.
“Obviously, the first 10 minutes of the game, we looked like we could play with them,” Gardner said. “The last 30 minutes of the game, they looked like Georgia; they looked like the No. 14 team in the country.”
The Lady Bulldogs improved to 8-1 with their fourth straight win while the Bears fell to 2-7.
Georgia has nearly two weeks off before returning to action against Gonzaga on Dec. 19 at the Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic. The Lady Bulldogs open SEC play Jan. 1 at home against Arkansas.
Mercer is off until hosting Troy on Dec. 18, with a road game at UNC Asheville and home game against Winthrop before welcoming No. 3 Notre Dame on Dec. 30.
Jasmine Hassell led a balanced Georgia attack with 16 points while Khaalidah Miller chipped in 15 and Anne Marie Armstrong 12.
Junior Ry’van Buchanan turned in 13 points for Mercer, one off the career high she set Saturday at Belmont. Freshman Precious Bridges added 11 points. Guard Sharnea Boykin had seven assists against five turnovers in 37 minutes.
The spread was three points off of Mercer’s 77-43 season-opening loss to Auburn, but the quality of Mercer’s effort was substantially better.
“It was a new team. We had a lot of freshmen; it was new to everybody,” Buchanan said of the game against Auburn. “But we just fought (Tuesday). I think the Auburn game, we didn’t fight as well as we fought with Georgia.”
This year’s meeting bore little resemblance to the game a year ago in Athens. The Lady Bulldogs took a double-digit lead eight minutes into that game, and the margin cracked 20 points about three minutes.
This time, Georgia didn’t get a 20-point lead until 15:51 remained in the game.
“We started the game with the possibility of three layups,” Landers said. “We made poor decisions on all three of them. I thought our decision-making was awful.”
Last year, it took Mercer more than 13 minutes to get 10 points, and the Lady Bulldogs had 31 points. At the same 7:33 mark this time, Georgia’s lead was only 21-14.
The Lady Bulldogs were in control, but couldn’t shed the Bears for awhile.
Mercer led by four after three minutes and for the final time at the 12:51 mark of the first half. The Lady Bulldogs went on an 11-0 run for a 21-14 lead as the Bears went scoreless for 6:26.
“We have to keep the intensity up like we did the first 10 minutes,” Buchanan said. “We played our hearts out the first 10 minutes. We’ve just got to keep it up. We’ve got to play tough no matter what name is on their jersey or how high they’re ranked.”
Georgia slowly extended the lead to 37-23 at halftime.
The Lady Bulldogs took advantage of a height and quickness advantage to go up by 20 four minutes into the half, and they began pulling away about six minutes later.
The outcome wasn’t surprising, but the game was a learning moment for the young Bears.
“It’s just another opportunity for me and my team to get better, see what our weakness is and where our strengths are,” Buchanan said. “It would have been nice to take down a Goliath, but it’s a process, so we’ve gotta keep building and learning.”