Saturday, February 2, 2008

Florida-Georgia showdown is much closer off the court

Andy Landers won his 700th basketball game as coach of Georgia’s women’s team, making him the fourth coach to reach this plateau. That’s no small feat given the highly competitive nature of the Southeastern Conference. Surely, Georgia fans were doubly excited that this milestone victory came against rival Florida. The No. 17 Bulldogs routed the Gators, 82-55.

Off the court, the college journalists covering these games were faced with a different task – revealing the importance of the game to its distinct readers, something these reporters did pretty well. They did an especially fine job of illustrating key moments and offering context.

Let’s see how these stories compare in this week’s sports writing showdown. I want to again acknowledge that this assessment is intended for education and fun – NOT to demean the work of college journalists who work hard learning their profession. Unlike other college students, journalists have their homework graded by the public. As a newspaper adviser, I understand how challenging this can be. Still, let’s have a little fun with this exercise in the spirit of friendly competition. Please, feel free to offer your own comments below these stories as well.

LEADS
Kevin Copp focuses on Landers’ milestone win, which makes sense for the hometown newspaper. In the opening five paragraphs, Copp puts Landers’ accomplishment in perspective: he is only the third coach to win 700 at a single school and fourth fastest to do so. The lead includes the obligatory quote from the coach as well, but that works well in the introductory paragraphs.

The No. 17 Lady Bulldogs secured a milestone victory for their head coach with their most dominant performance of the SEC season in an 82-55 win over Florida.

With the win, Andy Landers, who was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, recorded his 700th victory at Georgia.

"I've been blessed to be at a school with an administration that supported this," Landers said. "More importantly, when you have great assistant coaches and great players, this is something that's going to happen."

Landers joins Tennessee's Pat Summitt and Texas' Jody Conradt as the only coaches to record 700 wins at a single school.

Landers is the eighth coach in women's basketball history to reach 700 career wins. It took him 918 games to reach the mark, making the Georgia coach the fourth-fastest to 700 wins behind Summitt, Stanford's Tara VanDerveer and Conradt.

Sophomore point guard Ashley Houts illustrated what a low profile Landers kept about the achievement, as she first found out by reading a sign held up in the stands during the game.


Gators fans would not be as excited to dwell on Landers' achievement, although Phil Kegler correctly references this feat in a story published in the Independent Alligator. Instead, Braun evaluates the impact of this rout, revealing that Florida is not yet among the top teams in the SEC.

The Gators talked all week about the opportunity a game with No. 17 Georgia held.

Full of momentum, they called it a chance to see where they matched up with one of the nation's best, one year removed from a disappointing 9-22 season, and playing at home, where they'd won eight straight.

Instead, UF (13-6, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) tried its hardest to imitate last year's team as Georgia (16-3, 3-2 SEC) dismantled them 82-55 Thursday, tying UF's largest margin of defeat this season.


Both reporters did their job. EDGE: Even.

SOURCES
The Florida story includes comments from both coaches and a key player from both teams, compared to a single source in the Georgia story. EDGE: Florida.


CONTEXT & ANALYSIS

Kegler addresses key moments and relevant stats. He explains why the Gators played poorly in the first half (because they shot 23.3 percent), why the team fell behind (two extended scoreless droughts), and how Georgia compensated when its All-American was forced to the bench in foul.

It was so bad on both ends for UF that Georgia guard Ashley Houts matched UF's first-half output singlehandedly, scoring 21 of her career-high 25 points in the opening 20 minutes.

With teammate and All-American Tasha Humphrey stuck on the bench with two fouls, Houts put a bigger focus on looking for her own shot.

"That's been a common case this season, and my shot was kind of falling for me tonight," Houts said. "I was feeling good about it so I wasn't afraid to take it."

Landers called Houts' performance "incredible."

"Basketball is a game of opportunity," Landers said. "What Ashley did tonight was take advantage of the opportunities. She found the gaps. She found the seams. She got the ball deep and laid it up. Then when she was left open on the perimeter, [she] spotted up and shot it very, very well."

Kegler does a terrific job breaking down the game while Kopp’s strength is in breaking down the significance of Landers’ victory, putting the 700th win in perspective. Would have liked more analysis of the game. EDGE: Florida.

LANGUAGE & STYLE
Neither writer relied heavily on clichés or jargon, although Copp used “long range” for three-point range and Kegler called UF’s offense “high octane,” a vague, cliched term. Also, the teams are referred to as Lady Bulldogs and Lady Gators. We need to pressure schools to delete these sexist labels. EDGE: Even.

ORIGINALITY
Copp attacked the story straight on, stating that the Bulldogs coach won a milestone victory and that Georgia won in a rout, which is a solid approach. Some other suggested approaches: reveal the coach’s thoughts when he realized he would win his 700th victory, focus more on the fact he did not tell his players, or interview Pat Summitt or Jody Conradt before the game to include their perspectives. Kegler’s strength is the way he puts the game in perspective. Suggestion: Ask more follow-up questions so sources can further explain what they mean in quotes like: “It’s very disappointing. We just couldn’t get our offensive flow early.” What strategy had they hoped to apply – and how specifically did the flow get disrupted? EDGE: Even.

Overall, the edge goes to Florida 2-0, but both writers should be commended for doing a solid job on deadline, which can be a challenge. I wish both writers continued success.

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