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Georgia women’s basketball head coach Joni Taylor runs out while being introduced to the crowd. The University of Georgia basketball programs hosted their second Stegmania event ahead of the season to come on Oct. 11, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/ Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

The Georgia women’s basketball team will open its 2019-20 campaign with six consecutive games in front of the home crowd at Stegeman Coliseum. This year's schedule is a stark contrast from last season which saw just two home games out of the first six.

The Lady Bulldogs are coming off of a disappointing year that included an 18-12 overall record and a 9-7 conference slate. The team is hoping for a better start to this year and is helped by the early scheduling quirk.

“Anytime you play at home, hopefully you create an advantage,” head coach Joni Taylor said. “I think this team is a team that needs to play at home. You look at it, there are a lot of pieces that we are relying on that are not battle tested. The [new players] need to get their feet under themselves and in front of their fans and on the home floor.”

Georgia is brimming with youth, featuring three freshmen and four sophomores, with many of them stepping into prominent roles.

“Really, you are looking at Gabby [Connally], Steph [Paul], and Jenna [Staiti], who are the three players on your roster that are absolutely battle tested,” Taylor said. “Everyone else has shown great promise but we will not know until we get into those situations what it really looks like.”

Georgia’s non-conference schedule is among the toughest in recent memory. The Lady Bulldogs will play Baylor — ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press preseason poll — and No. 11 UCLA.

In the SEC, Georgia will play against the No. 6, 8, 10 and 13 preseason ranked teams in the nation. Starting the season with a lot of home matchups could ease the transition into the new season.

“I think we play a lot better at home,” redshirt junior center Jenna Staiti said. “Seeing the familiar faces in the crowd is something big for us. We are comfortable playing [at home], we are comfortable all around so starting off there, I think it will take a lot of the nervousness off everyone’s shoulders, off the freshmen just playing somewhere familiar first is good for us.”

With the influx of new players, Georgia has also begun to notice a culture shift towards a more collective approach.

“When things get tough we really come together and focus on what needs to be done because last year we were not really great at that,” junior guard Gabby Connally said. “When things got tough everybody became focused on themselves and now I think everybody is focused on one another and doing stuff for the team. It is not about somebody individually, it is about all of us collectively.”

Georgia’s versatility will be on full display to the home supporters during the Lady Bulldogs’ first six games of the 2019-20 season. Taylor hopes the team no longer has to solely rely on a strong defense.

“From a basketball standpoint, we are more versatile, we have more options, we are shooting the ball better than we have in the past,” Taylor said. “We still want to beat you [defensively] but now I also feel like we can walk it and isolate some people on the perimeter and inside, so we have a lot more options than we have [had] in the past.”

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