Suddenly, in a three-game span, Georgia has life.
No, Georgia isn’t on the bubble. There’s still a lot of needed work before the Bulldogs get to that point. But Saturday’s 70-63 win over Alabama has Georgia in a confident place heading into the SEC Tournament next week.
Georgia (17-12, 10-8 SEC) is now riding a three-game winning streak for the first time in conference play. Since a deflating loss at Auburn on Feb. 24, which left many to think Georgia’s shot at an NCAA Tournament at-large bid was out of the question, the Bulldogs have played a much better brand of basketball.
It ran away with a win over Mississippi late. It came back from a late 5-point deficit against South Carolina. It closed Alabama (17-13, 8-10) out, even after a sudden surge from the Crimson Tide in the second half.
As far as senior guard Kenny Gaines is concerned, this team needs to keep its winning streak through next Sunday to reach the NCAA Tournament.
"We definitely feel like in order to get to the NCAA Tournament that we have to win the (SEC Tournament)," Gaines said. "It’s what we always preach. I feel like we can do it. It’s definitely doable."
With how Georgia’s played the past three games, Gaines may be right. The SEC is a top-heavy conference this season and the Bulldogs would have to upset Texas A&M or Kentucky, or both, to pull the feat off. But from seeds 3 through 13, Georgia can beat anyone.
While Gaines believes Georgia needs to win out, head coach Mark Fox thinks his team should earn consideration if it earns some impressive wins in Nashville.
"I feel like we still have some work to do but we’ve played an incredibly difficult schedule and we have defeated some very good teams," Fox said. "Our kids have refused to give into adversity. We continue to get better and we continue to scratch out a few wins. We need to scratch out a few more, but if we do scratch out a couple more, then I think we’re obviously worth of very serious consideration. But we need to go to (the SEC Tournament) and get something done."
A quick recap on what Georgia has done this season: The Bulldogs lost four non-conference games by 10 points or less. Baylor and Seton Hall are definite NCAA Tournament teams. Chattanooga will be if it does what’s expected and wins the Southern Conference Tournament. On Saturday, Kansas State held a No. 80 RPI, making it the worst of Georgia’s non-conference losses. Georgia took care of Georgia Tech and Clemson.
In conference play, things got dicey. An inconsistent offense contributed to losses against Florida (twice), Mississippi, LSU and Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs were flat-out blown out by Kentucky and Texas A&M. The loss to Auburn is the worst this season and is why Georgia has an uphill climb to get back into contention – whether it’s to win the conference tournament or advance to the championship game.
But Georgia has also beaten South Carolina twice and just defeated an Alabama team that was surging through the first half of February. ESPN NCAA Tournament analyst Joe Lunardi had Alabama on the bubble in his “Next Four Out” category before Saturday’s game.
What Georgia may have working in its favor is the additional offensive output it’s received from Derek Ogbeide and Mike Edwards. Against Alabama, Ogbeide scored 8 points and Edwards added 4.
Ogbeide has now scored 8 or more in three of his past six games. Edwards has scored 3 or more in four of his past six. It may not seem like a lot but there was a time when Georgia was getting next to no production from the fifth offensive spot.
Getting anywhere from 9-12 points combined from Ogbeide and Edwards will go a long way during the conference tournament.
"Our front line, they’re young and they made some boneheaded plays (Saturday)," Fox said. "But they’re getting better and are starting to finish some plays. That’s going to be key for us, obviously. We’re going to have to have a lot of guys chip in to string together some wins in Nashville."
Given what’s occurred over the past three games, Georgia may not be left for dead after all, which was the general thought following the Auburn loss. The wins must continue, and even in the end, the Bulldogs may still need to win the SEC Tournament to earn an admission to the NCAA Tournament.
"We want to carry the momentum and keep the energy up," senior guard Charles Mann said. 'If we win the next game, we’ll have another game."