NASHVILLE — It has come to this for Georgia basketball, where the SEC tournament provides one final chance to salvage a roller coaster season.
The Bulldogs ended the regular season on a decidedly down note, losing their final home game to rival Florida (68-54) before suffering the indignity of a 30-point blowout loss at LSU last Saturday.
Now it’s tournament time, and Georgia (15-16) plays Ole Miss (15-16) at 7 p.m. (EDT) at Bridgestone Arena with the season on the line.
A loss would end the Bulldogs’ season. A win would set up another match with Florida on Thursday. Two wins in the SEC tourney would assure Georgia of a .500 season and provide the potential for an NIT bid.
Georgia star Anthony Edwards quelled any fears he might skip an NIT bid on Tuesday, indicating he plans to play if the UGA season is somehow extended beyond the SEC tourney.
“I feel like a lot of people have seen our fight when we play to our max levels,” Edwards said on Tuesday before the team travelled to Nashville for an evening shoot around.
“When we play badly, we play very badly. Other than that, we play up to our potential and are really good.”
Indeed, earlier this season Georgia recorded only the second road win over a non-conference Top 25 team in school history with a 65-62 triumph at then-No. 9 Memphis.
Impressive double-digit wins over Tennessee (80-63) and then-No. 12 Auburn (65-55) were the home-court highlights.
But the Bulldogs finished 13th in the SEC standings and are in danger of missing the postseason barring an NIT berth or miraculous league tourney run.
Junior Rayshaun Hammonds, whose effort is perhaps the biggest key for Georgia, says he’s dialed in.
“I just need to keep doing what I’ve been doing the last couple games,” Hammonds said. “I need to come out strong, playing hard and playing fun.
“We’re just going to come out and play our game and have fun with it. Now isn’t the time to lose, because we’re trying to make something big. That’s our main focus.”
Hammonds was ineffective in the first meeting with Ole Miss, just 1-of-8 shooting with 5 rebounds in 30 minutes of play.
Coach Tom Crean said the team is focused solely on this matchup with the Rebels, who beat UGA 70-60 in Athens earlier this season.
“Ole Miss poses a lot of problems because they’re physical, tough, they change defenses,” Crean said. “They’ll be on a mission, and we’ve got to match that.”
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