Bulldogs tournament loss reflects their season
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope leaned forward in his chair and sighed. There was no person in the locker room who had more right to be tired than him.
We had to fight back or just lie down. We chose to fight back, he said. I love my teammates. They just
He didnt complete the thought.
Georgias season ended Thursday with a 68-63 loss to LSU, a game that perfectly encapsulated Georgias season:
A horrid start. A surprising and resilient rally, propelled by Caldwell-Pope. And an end that showed the horrid start was too tough to overcome.
The result: Georgia finishing with its fourth losing record (14-16) in five seasons and a non-winning record for the sixth time in eight seasons.
We really fought back courageously, Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. But we just cant wait that late in the game to start playing like that.
When Georgia trailed by 23 with a minute left in the first half, the game seemed over. When Caldwell-Pope drained a 3 to make it a 20-point lead at halftime, it didnt seem likely to make a difference.
But Caldwell-Pope kept it going in the second half, when he scored 25 of his career-high 32 points. The Bulldogs made the improbable rally, getting within two points in the final minute. And with 20 seconds left they had possession, down three with a chance to tie.
It wasnt to be. Caldwell-Popes long, contested 3 with 11 seconds left was well short. LSU rebounded, hit free throws, and that was it.
The players echoed their coaches sentiment: The comeback was downplayed, the first-half belabored.
We laid down the first half, Caldwell-Pope said. They just out-physicaled us, were pushing us around a lot.
We didnt come out right. We didnt come ready to play. We werent mentally ready. And, I mean, you could tell by the first half, point guard Charles Mann said. They shot the ball well, but we just werent playing defense at all. We couldnt execute. It took us a half to get ready. I mean, it was too late for that.
At one point, Georgia went nine minutes and 45 seconds without a field goal. On the bench, Fox was a picture of exasperation, several times collapsing into a chair and throwing up his hands.
At halftime, the team didnt really discuss basketball, according to Fox. He emphasized pride and maturing as competitors. That all helped, but in reality it was just good to get the star player going.
Caldwell-Pope was hot from the start, scoring 14 points in the first seven minutes, and every time LSU seemed to stem the run, he hit another big shot.
I just wanted to get myself into rhythm and get myself going, Caldwell-Pope said. Once I got going, my teammates got going.
Mann made it a two-point game with 1:06 left by hitting two free throws. The Bulldogs were in great position, only to have LSUs Andre Stinger drill a 3 with 36 seconds left.
But it still wasnt over. Mann hit two free throws, and when LSUs Johnny OBryant missed two free throws, Fox called timeout. The plan was simple: Get the ball to Caldwell-Pope and let him decide whether to hoist a 3 or try a quick drive for an easy two.
He chose the 3, but it was from about 23 feet out.
I didnt shoot it straight up and down, Caldwell-Pope said. I was leaning a little bit on the shot. It was well contested, and I just didnt create any space just to get an open shot.
Fox declined to criticize the shot.
Hes earned the right to take any shot he wants, Fox said. He just missed the shot. Hes made a lot of them for us. He just missed that one.
Georgias season is now over. In the long view, it was another losing season that didnt end with the NCAA -- or even the NIT.
In the shorter view, the more optimistic view, the team recovered from a 2-7 start that included losses to Youngstown State, Iona and Southern Miss. And it went from 1-4 in the SEC -- including a home loss to woeful Mississippi State -- to 9-9 in SEC play, including late wins over Kentucky and Tennessee.
Im definitely proud of our team. We showed signs of maturity in the second half, freshman Brandon Morris said. We showed signs of a team thats gonna come back next year ready to go.
This year, however, is over.