Mackenzie Engram and Caliya Robinson

Georgia forward Mackenzie Engram (33) is pictured during the Lady Bulldogs' game against Wofford at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017. (Photo by Steffenie Burns)

The Georgia women’s basketball team will take its first road trip of the season when it travels to Charlottesville, Virginia, to face Virginia on Thursday.

Virginia is one of several difficult opponents that Georgia will face throughout its non-conference schedule prior to the start of SEC play.

While teams often schedule less competitive opponents from smaller schools during non-conference play, several of Georgia’s out of conference opponents this season pose real challenges.

Virginia is coming off a 20-13 season in 2016-17. The Cavaliers came to Athens in December 2016 and beat Georgia 66-43. Virginia returns many of its starters from last year.

The Bulldogs are not underestimating the difficulty of facing Virginia on the road.

“They are a seasoned team,” head coach Joni Taylor said. “We’re preparing, talking about handling that challenge on the road and making sure that we can handle that environment.”

During the offseason, the team discussed its non-conference schedule, and what games it would need to win to have a good chance to go to the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season. Virginia was one of those games that the team singled out.

“We just kind of talked about games that we need to win, and stealing good wins on the road, which Virginia would be a really good one to steal on the road,” senior Haley Clark said. “So we’re just trying to lock in and get ready and prepare to go do that.”

Aside from just Virginia, the Bulldogs will travel to Utah on Nov. 25 to play a strong BYU team that went 20-12 last season. Georgia will also play Texas in Athens on Dec. 3. The Longhorns went 24-9 last season and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

Georgia’s difficult non-conference schedule could benefit the team down the road if it is vying for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Aside from qualifying for the tournament, though, the team said the challenging non-conference matchups will prepare it well for SEC play.

“It gives us that extra experience and edge and challenge before we get into SEC, which I think is the best conference in the nation,” Clark said.

The Bulldogs said they are well prepared for the challenges ahead, though. The team has been planning and training for its non-conference schedule all summer.

“You prepare for that in the offseason,” Taylor said. “We started work on not just Virginia specifically, but just the toughness of our schedule, this summer and in the fall.”

That offseason preparation will be especially important for the freshmen on the team, who will compete in their first road game at Virginia. The team has encouraged the freshmen to focus on scouting reports and making sure they know their opponent well.

“Obviously, we don’t have our fans with us and the environment is different, so knowing who you’re playing and knowing what you need to do will be a big part of getting a win on the road,” Clark said.

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