That same game also sticks out to Georgia’s Andy Landers for completely different reasons — it was the last time the Lady Bulldogs reached the Final Four.
“I don’t have great recall on a lot of games,” Landers said. “But I do remember that game.”
The two long-tenured coaches will reacquaint themselves on Monday night when the fifth-seeded Cyclones (24-8) face the No. 4 seed Lady Bulldogs (26-6) in the second round of the NCAA women’s tournament. The winner will advance to the regional semifinals across town at the Spokane Arena next Saturday night.
It’ll be just the third meeting all-time between the two schools, all coming in the NCAAs. But it’s the first meeting, back in March 1999 in Cincinnati that holds meaning for both.
For Fennelly he was still in the process of building the Cyclones’ program. Iowa State made the tournament for the first time in 1997 and two years later was on the verge of the Final Four. The Cyclones knocked off top-seed Connecticut in the regional semifinals to set up that meeting against Georgia. The experience remains a moment that hasn’t left Fennelly’s memory because the Cyclones have only gotten to the regional finals one other time since losing to Georgia 89-71 back 14 years ago.
“It never fades, never, never. Think about it all the time. There are certain things in life they are always in your head. Some things are good and some things are bad. There are a lot of games and I think that’s what makes coaching so great and what drives people crazy is you can’t let it go,” Fennelly said on Sunday. “And I think if you do let it go, you’re in the wrong profession. You shouldn’t let it go. It shouldn’t haunt you or make you miserable, but I think it should motivate you and keep you grounded.”
For Landers, the 1999 season is also special because of the performance by Georgia star Kelly Miller that led the Lady Bulldogs to the Final Four. Miller scored 33 points as Georgia built a big early lead and coasted to the 18-point victory. The Lady Bulldogs lost in the national semifinals that season by Duke, completing a five-year run where Georgia went to the Final Four three times.
“It made it just really difficult for them defensively, and I remember it because I was so concerned going in about it,” Landers recalled. “They did such a good job with that zone, and ... Kelly pretty much punched our ticket to the Final Four that night.”
Fennelly took a relaxed approach with his team after they knocked off No. 12 seed Gonzaga 72-60 in the first round on Saturday. Instead of making sure they all stuck around to get a detailed look at their next opponent and start the scouting process, or harping on the 23 turnovers the Cyclones committed, Fennelly told his players relax and enjoy the evening. After losing in the first round the previous two seasons, Fennelly wanted his team to savor their accomplishment.
“If you don’t enjoy it, it kind of goes away,” Fennelly said. “So we try and let them enjoy the win. It was a great environment, a great evening.”
But the Cyclones do have concerns. Georgia is one of the top defensive teams in the country giving up just 53 points per game during the regular season and holding down Montana in a 70-50 win on Saturday. The Lady Bulldogs also have superior depth and the luxury of having fresh players able to enter and play the type of intense defense that Landers requires.
Iowa State used just six players for extended minutes in its win over Gonzaga. While they didn’t go deep into their bench, how the Cyclones used the versatility of their players is what caught the attention of the Lady Bulldogs. The six Cyclones who played at least 28 minutes all attempted one 3-pointer, including two attempts from 6-foot-7 center Anna Prins. The Cyclones shot 25 3s, making nine against Gonzaga, the 12th time this season Iowa State made at least nine 3-pointers in a game.
Alabama was the only team that made that many 3s against Georgia this season.
“One thing that stands out is their size and the way they go about using it,” Georgia guard Jasmine James said. “They have players who have pretty good height but as well can step out and shoot it. They shoot the ball very well.”