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Finally ... they meet

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- When Andy Landers and Tara VanDerveer cross paths on the recruiting trail, they regularly razz each other about something far off the basketball radar.

These two coaching icons from opposite coasts have an ongoing debate about who has the best dogs: VanDerveer's Bay Area golden retrievers or the pooch on Landers' family farm back home in Georgia.

How about Landers' Lady Bulldogs, can they stack up to top-seeded Stanford? That one, they will settle on the court in the NCAA Tournament's Sacramento Regional semifinals tonight.

"Andy and I have a running argument and debate about who has the better dogs, like what's the best kind of dog to have," VanDerveer, Stanford's 24th-year coach, said Friday. "I guess he has some kind of herding dog that he claims are the smartest dogs. I'm like, 'No, I have a golden retriever and my golden retrievers are clearly better pets and better dogs.' When we see each other during the summer, and we have known each other for a long time, we kind of get into that little argument about, 'Well, how's your dog?' 'How's your dog?' 'Your dog is not as smart as my dog.' "

VanDerveer's Cardinal (33-1) will put their 24-game winning streak on the line against fifth-seeded Georgia (25-8) at Arco Arena -- home of the NBA's Sacramento Kings -- hoping to take one more step toward reaching a third straight Final Four and a potential rematch with undefeated defending champion Connecticut.

For as often as these two national powerhouse programs have made deep runs in the NCAA Tournament, it's been 10 years since they've met in March on basketball's biggest stage.

"We've enjoyed a very healthy competitive relationship," Landers said.

These two programs reached the same Final Four in consecutive years -- in 1995 and '96 -- with Georgia beating Stanford in the national semifinals the second time. That helped avenge a second-round loss to the Cardinal on their home floor in Maples Pavilion in '93.

"I think it's exciting for coaches as established as the two of them to meet up and have their teams meet up in the Sweet 16," Stanford guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude said.

This run has been especially gratifying for Landers considering the 31st-year Georgia coach has six freshmen contributing to a team that lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year to Arizona State.

The Lady Bulldogs have won five of six and started the season 16-0.

Georgia would like nothing more than to pull off the biggest upset yet of the women's tournament and reach its first Final Four since 1999.

"I know that last year he was disappointed with his team and this year they're here," VanDerveer said. "I think he's spending more time in the gym and more time watching video than out on that farm."

Georgia must find a way to slow down Stanford's dominant inside game featuring Pac-10 Player of the Year Nnemkadi Ogwumike, All-America center Jayne Appel and All-Pac-10 forward Kayla Pedersen.

But, as Iowa quickly found out in the second round, Stanford's guards aren't to be overlooked. Gold-Onwude knocked down a career-high seven 3-pointers on the way to a career-best 26 points in the Cardinal's 96-67 victory over the eighth-seeded Hawkeyes in the second round Monday night.

"They play very well together," Georgia's Ashley Houts said. "They know how to score and they have a great feel for each other. ... It's going to present some tough challenges for us -- maybe it's something we as guards haven't seen this year."