Georgia has come close. Awfully close.
But still, grabbing that signature victory has yet to happen. Georgia took Florida and Kentucky to overtime —or better yet, was taken to overtime by both of those teams. In control of both games, Georgia ended up losing in the extra period against the Gators and Wildcats.
A win in either of those games would have been huge to Georgia’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
Instead, Georgia is five games away from the end of the regular season and has only one RPI top-50 win against No. 47 Tennessee.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Telegraph
Georgia’s first meeting against Kentucky was especially brutal, considering it jumped out to a 14-point lead in the first half and had a two-point advantage with just mroe than 10 seconds remaining in the game. But Kentucky guard Malik Monk made a jumper from the corner to tie the game up and send it to overtime. The Wildcats then jumped out to an overtime lead and won 90-81.
“When you lose, when you’re so close to winning, is frustrating,” Georgia junior forward Yante Maten said. “But it’s frustrating if you lose. It’s all frustration. But you have to channel that frustration and try to make the best out of it – find what you need, what you’re lacking in and what’s the team needing, and work on it.”
This season, Georgia has faced five ranked opponents — six if you include the first meeting against South Carolina when it wasn’t ranked in the AP top 25. The Bulldogs have lost each of those. The aforementioned games against Florida and Kentucky were nail-biters. The games against South Carolina were lost by a combined eight points.
An early-season loss to Kansas was more competitive than the final 11-point margin of victory suggests. Georgia’s only defeat against a ranked opponent that saw the opposing team run away was in its second meeting against Florida, a 72-60 loss in Athens.
The way Georgia played in its first game against Kentucky suggests it’s a capable group that can challenge anyone on any night. But the Bulldogs have yet to prove it can close out an opponent of this stature.
That will be a trend Georgia hopes to reverse in Saturday’s rematch with the Wildcats.
“We’re able to compete with pretty much anybody if we come to play and we finish plays,” Maten said. “We have to make sure we get back on defense because they like to get on the break really fast. As soon as the ball comes off the rim, they’re sprinting down trying to score a bucket at the rim. We’re trying to make sure we get back on defense. That’s probably the first and foremost thing.”
This time, however, Kentucky should be an even better team than the one that rallied to defeat Georgia. For starters, De’Aaron Fox, who had an illness and missed the first game, is back in the lineup and is averaging 15.6 points per game. The Wildcats were in a midseason funk before the first game but have since gone on to win its past three games, which included an 83-58 drubbing over Tennessee – which came in a rematch over one of the two lone SEC teams to defeat Kentucky.
“They’re a different team now than they were a couple of weeks ago,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. “They have a very talented team. They do have some young guys on their team, but their young guys — like most freshmen should — are playing like sophomores. Kentucky’s got a great team, a very balanced team, and is probably coming off one of their best performances of the year. We can’t look back at game one and draw as much as one might think because their team is different and ours is too.”
Georgia has been competitive in big games. It just hasn’t been able to get the job done in the closing minutes.
If Georgia is to make a late-season push at the NCAA Tournament, then defeating Kentucky would be to its benefit. Coming close in these types of games won’t be enough to the NCAA Tournament’s selection committee.
“It’s definitely a big resume-booster,” Georgia guard Juwan Parker. “If your main goal is the tournament, that’s very important.”