Playing well, as Georgia did in its 81-73 victory over George Washington in Monday's CBE Classic semifinal, was more than meaningful to Bulldogs head coach Mark Fox. He made it a priority because he believed he owed it to the program.
Three years ago, when Georgia traveled to George Washington for a regular-season game, Fox’s father, Raymond Lewis Fox, was close to death in the family’s home town of Garden City, Kansas.
Mark Fox didn’t know what to do, return to Kansas or coach the Bulldogs. He later said his father would have wanted him to stay with his team, and that’s what Fox did.
Georgia lost 73-55 and Fox was in a daze throughout the night. The next morning, he flew to Kansas.
“I don’t want to take anything away from that GW team, but I didn’t coach good at all,” Fox said. “And I didn’t make back in time to see my dad.
“I thought about that (Monday).”
Before Monday’s game, Fox recalled that night with his players.
“I told our team, 'You deserve a better effort from me than what I gave you that night at GW,' ” Fox said.
Four Bulldogs were on that team in 2014, and they were moved by their coach’s sentiment.
“We wanted to do it more for him than any of us,” said senior guard, J.J. Frazier. “He felt like he let us down a few years ago. We didn’t know about it. We just thought we lost.
“Then we saw how hard he took it, with tears in his eye. (Monday), I wanted to come out with that intensity, play hard and show him, I’ve got him. We have our coach’s back because he has ours.”
Frazier was a key component for Georgia (3-1) throughout the night but especially down the stretch when forward Yante Maten collected his fifth foul with 3 minutes, 36 seconds remaining, moments after scoring the final of his 18 points on a jumper to give the Bulldogs the lead for good at 70-68.
Frazier also finished with 18 points and hit the game’s final four free throws to put away a game that the Colonials kept close largely on the strength of 10-of-24 3-point shooting. Sharpshooter Matt Hart, who started his career at Division III Hamilton College in New York, hit five of six from deep.
But Georgia had enough to pull away at the end and move into the title game against either Kansas or Alabama-Birmingham, and Fox was pulling for the Jayhawks. He received an advanced degree from Kansas in 1996, and his Nevada team in 2005 is one of nine to own a victory over a Bill Self-coached Kansas team at Allen Fieldhouse.
“Kansas is the benchmark for great basketball,” Fox said. “There’s KU and there UK (Kentucky). They both blue and they’re both terrific. I have the utmost respect for the history and tradition of Kansas basketball. I grew up watching it.”