It’s a familiar feeling for Derek Ogbeide.
He remembers what it was like the last time Georgia was ready to take on South Carolina, given the Bulldogs needed a win to keep its postseason hopes alive. With Georgia (15-12, 8-8 SEC) in a position where it has to win the SEC Tournament to earn an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, the Bulldogs are in win-now mode to gain any potential momentum before the second season begins.
Ogbeide said Georgia has to take on a fighter’s mentality if it’s to break through with a late-season run. That begins with Thursday’s rematch at South Carolina (23-6, 10-6).
"We’re in a corner," Ogbeide said. "We need to break out of it. If we go in with that mentality, we can formulate that into something we can weaponize, and push toward the offensive."
Before its previous meeting with the Gamecocks on Feb. 2, Georgia had dropped consecutive road games (LSU, Baylor) and was desperate for a win. The Bulldogs got one in a 69-56 victory over South Carolina, in which it dictated the pace of play for much of the game.
That win seemed like a launching point for Georgia, only for it to go 3-4 in games since then. Lacking has been consistency on both ends until Saturday’s 80-66 win over Mississippi. It seemed like the first time all season that the Bulldogs got a balanced effort on offense while playing as good of a game defensively as they could.
"We had a stretch of games we didn’t play particularly well," senior guard Kenny Gaines said. "Every team has that but then every team has the time where they spark and things start clicking. Hopefully against Ole Miss, that started our spark."
The key for Georgia is carrying over one strong performance to the next. With the Bulldogs needing to hit a stride before the conference tournament, two wins this week would be a good start.
But since SEC play started on Jan. 2, Georgia has yet to put together a winning streak longer than two against conference opponents. First, the Bulldogs defeated Missouri and Arkansas, teams ranked 14th, and ninth in the SEC, respectively. The second time, Georgia bested South Carolina and Auburn, teams ranked fifth and 13th.
"That consistency is important to this team," head coach Mark Fox said. "We knew it would be. I think if we can ever get the consistency part then they’ll see scoring becomes easier because we’re harder to guard. That’s been the one thing we’ve yet to show, is that consistency."
While Georgia may not be playing for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid anymore, it is still competing for as high of a seed as possible in the SEC Tournament. There’s still a chance for Georgia to wind up the SEC’s No. 5 seed, which means it would see the winner of the play-in game between the 12th and 13th seeds.
That slot would give the Bulldogs the best possible chance of making a run at a conference tournament championship and stealing a spot. Some help is needed, including South Carolina losing out and Mississippi dropping one of two games this week.
The only way for Georgia to keep this hope alive is to sweep this week’s slate of games, beginning with Thursday’s 7 p.m. tip at South Carolina.
Ogbeide is confident his team can put together a run that changes the narrative of the season.
"I feel we’re reaching that point or stage as a team where we can formulate such things," Ogbeide said. "We have to keep it going."