Georgia basketball keeps eyes focused forward

semerson@macon.comFebruary 11, 2013 

ATHENS -- Mark Fox had a colloquialism ready when he was asked the inevitable question. The what-if question. The thought that if his suddenly hot Georgia men’s basketball team had not started 2-7 and had not lost three home games that were supposed to be guarantees.

“You can’t live life backwards. That’s why the rearview mirror is smaller than the windshield,” Fox said Monday.

This is currently on Georgia’s windshield: A three-game stretch that will be a better barometer of just how much the Bulldogs have improved.

The next three games are against Alabama (7-3 in the SEC), at Mississippi (7-3) and Arkansas (5-5). Georgia’s six conference wins have come against teams in the bottom half of the standings. None of them having a winning record in the SEC.

Still, wins are wins, especially for a team that was so abysmal to start the season.

“(They’re) probably one of the hottest teams in the league right now,” Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said.

The result is a much different outlook than appeared possible just a month ago.

Georgia is tied with Missouri for fifth place in the SEC. The Bulldogs could vault into third place by sweeping Alabama and Ole Miss this week and be in prime position heading into the final six games of the regular season.

Yes, it may be a very optimistic scenario. But when Georgia started the season 0-3 in the SEC, who saw 6-4 coming?

“I still don’t think we’re playing our best basketball,” Fox said.

Georgia’s current five-game winning streak started with a win at Texas A&M and reached five last Saturday with a home win over the Aggies. The Bulldogs led wire-to-wire.

Billy Kennedy, who is Texas A&M’s head coach, was asked Monday why he thought Georgia had turned it around. Kennedy started off by referring to what the Bulldogs have done well along -- play good defense -- then pointed to the offense of the supporting cast.

“In games I think they lost in the preseason and early in the year, it was all on (Kentavious) Caldwell-Pope to make big shots,” Kennedy said.

But last Saturday it was Vincent Williams hitting a big 3 to stem the Aggies’ best second-half run. Then another guard hit a 3 to extend it to double digits.

“They’re making shots at critical times, and that’s a tribute to their depth and their team just maturing,” Kennedy said.

And what if all this had been happening earlier in the season? Georgia probably would have flipped the results against Youngstown State, Southern Miss and Iona. Two of those games went to overtime. Perhaps a couple road losses, to Georgia Tech and South Florida, could have gone differently, also.

Suddenly, Georgia’s season would look a lot different, and an NCAA tournament berth would be more realistic.

But, as Fox sees it, those early stumbles have helped form the midseason turnaround.

“I don’t think there’s any question that we’ve tried to use every experience to grow and improve,” Fox said. “Some of the tough losses early helped this team improve and grow, and that’s why they’re playing better today and why hopefully we can have a bright future.”

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