NASHVILLE, Tenn. – All Georgia can do is wait.
Much has been made about the NCAA Tournament bubble this season, perhaps more than in recent years. There are a ton of teams hoping for an invitation to the field of 68 and there doesn’t seem to be a consensus among the tournament analysts as to which programs will earn the final few bids.
The Bulldogs are the latest team to state their case, although even some of the players acknowledged after Saturday’s 93-80 loss to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament semifinals that it could be too little too late.
Georgia (19-13) won five games in a row before Saturday’s loss and is playing its best basketball of the season. In fact, it sure looked like the Bulldogs, at least on the offensive end, played their best game of the season in Saturday’s loss – despite the Wildcats (25-8) claiming a 13-point victory.
"We always got down to the very end for the most of our games this year," sophomore forward Yante Maten said. "We just didn’t finish. We did figure it out, but it is tough to have a really good run at the end of the season when you’re playing your best basketball."
In Georgia’s previous close losses, however, something would go awry. The Bulldogs were probably the better team in games against Chattanooga, Kansas State, Mississippi on the road and Florida at home. But the Bulldogs were unable to finish those teams off and lost by four points or fewer.
After a loss to Auburn on Feb. 24, Georgia has been a different team in wins over Mississippi (at home), South Carolina (twice), Alabama and Mississippi State.
Not being able to close out a team like Kentucky isn’t at all similar to the misses Georgia had earlier in the season, which still sting given the position the Bulldogs are in with the NCAA Tournament.
"It’s a little frustrating but we put ourselves in that position early," senior guard Kenny Gaines said. "There are some things we could have done earlier in the season so we wouldn’t be in this type of tight situation."
Maten said he believes Georgia has at least stated a case for admission into the NCAA Tournament. More importantly, he said, the Bulldogs have played better basketball over the final three weeks of the year.
"That’s not how most teams function," Maten said. "A lot of them start getting tired and start losing. We’re a young team with two senior leaders to help show the way. It took us a little while to get to the exact point of where we wanted to be."
But the whole body of work must, and will, be considered.
Georgia does not have a win over a top-25 opponent. Its three best wins all came against South Carolina, which has helped the Gamecocks’ RPI to drop out of the top-50.
But Georgia does boast a top-five non-conference strength of schedule and the fact that it’s won five of its last six games. Even in a losing effort against Kentucky, Georgia – perhaps for the first time all season on a big stage – looked the part of an NCAA Tournament team.
Unfortunately for Georgia, the timing may have just come a little later than it needed.
"We played the best we played all year (Saturday)," Gaines said. "We put it all on the line. Hopefully, we put forth a good enough show for the committee."