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University of Georgia women's basketball head coach Joni Taylor talks to her team during a timeout at the University of Georgia women's basketball game vs. Vanderbilt, on February 8, 2018, in Stegeman Coliseum, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Christina R. Matacotta, crmatacotta@gmail.com)

Before the women’s basketball season started, the SEC released the media’s preseason polls. The announcement had preseason all-conference teams and a prediction for player of the year, but it also had a prediction for where each team would finish in the conference standings.

Georgia, which finished third in the league last Sunday, was picked to finish eighth.

The Lady Bulldogs sometimes used those predictions for motivation, but they didn’t let them seep into the locker room in any different manner. They had their own preseason predictions that they stood by all year.

“I know for the regular season we, for the first time since coach Joni’s taken over, matched what we predicted exactly,” said senior guard Haley Clark. “For the SEC play we were off by I think one game. We guessed that we’d lose three and we ended up losing four.”

As Georgia kept collecting wins, more media started showing up to availability looking to shed light on the SEC’s surprise team. No matter the size of the crowd that surrounded her, head coach Joni Taylor had a short and consistent answer when asked about whether or not she was surprised.

“No,” she said. “Not at all.”

Unlike the media and the conference, Georgia’s expectations for themselves did not change with every different week. It had one regular-season record that they continued to work towards.

The Lady Bulldogs established their identity as a defensive team throughout the season, and they finished the regular season forcing their opponents to shoot less than 35 percent from the field, on average. They forced nearly four more turnovers per game than they gave up, and they averaged six blocks per game.

“I think it’s just our mentality,” Taylor said. “It doesn’t start when you play the game; it starts in the offseason. It starts in the summer and the fall.”

The mixture of one concrete goal for the season and the fuel of the SEC preseason predictions was initially established by Taylor, but it didn’t take long for it to be adopted by the entire team.

“We aimed for success, which you always do, but I mean to come out and execute things and to do things like we predicted is not too surprising,” Clark said.

Clark was at Georgia for a season before Taylor assumed head coaching responsibilities, so she has been learning from the coach’s goal-oriented mindset from the beginning. For the success of this season to carry into the future, the younger players needed to buy in as well.

Younger players such as redshirt sophomore Taja Cole, for example, will be the next to lead the team both on the court and in its overall mentality.

“[Haley] is right, once you work really hard at something and then you get good results, I mean you can’t really be surprised,” Cole said. “I’m thankful for [the preseason goals]. I’m thankful that we all bought in to what our coaches were saying.”

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