ATHENS – Tom Izzo called Mark Fox late this week. Izzo had seen what had happened to Fox’s Georgia team over the previous week, and Michigan State’s longtime coach just wanted to chip in an encouraging word.
“I think his quote was that nobody quite understands what his team is going through,” Fox said of Izzo, who has followed Georgia closely since hiring a former Georgia player, Matt Bucklin, on his staff, and playing the Bulldogs in the NCAA tournament two years ago.
“Nobody else is there to see their investment every day, or see what happens to them sometimes, what they go through,” Fox went on. “I think our team was disappointed in themselves on Wednesday night. I didn’t think that they felt they gave the effort that we expect from them every day.”
Georgia’s victory over Texas on Saturday was not anything to crow about. It was a mere 59-57 win over a team with a losing record (now 8-13). It will not do much on Georgia’s resume’.
But it was therapeutic for the Bulldogs, who had endured a difficult two weeks. An overtime loss at Florida in what would have been a season-changing win. The clock malfunction debacle at Texas A&M, after blowing a 9-point with two minutes left. And then the 20-point drubbing at home against an average Alabama team.
Forget the NCAA tournament hopes, at least for now. Georgia needs some big wins to get back in the conversation. Texas does not qualify. But after these two weeks, to win the way they did – with a last-second Texas shot rolling in and out – felt really good.
“God heard our prayers. Because we were praying,” senior guard J.J. Frazier said. “That ball was halfway in.”
So to see something finally break Georgia’s way, again, that felt really good.
“It just gives us a boost,” Frazier said, speaking more of the win, but also about the luck factor. “We’ve been playing good basketball the last two weeks minus the Alabama game. So we were confident. Our spirits were a little broken the other night from what happened over the weekend (at Texas A&M.) We didn’t do a great job of picking ourselves back up. Coach did a good job of motivating us and reminding us how good we can play over the next couple weeks.”
Not that all the luck was going Georgia’s way. When officials went to the monitor in the final seconds, you can only imagine the dread in Georgia’s huddle, after the Texas A&M game. And again the review went the other way, waving off a Derek Ogbeide put-back that would’ve made it a four-point game with 7.5 seconds left.
Fox, who didn’t take the bait when a reporter joked that he must have been “thrilled” to see the reviewing the play, said the officials got it right.
“That’s what they should do. When you go to the monitor you should look at plays and get them right,” Fox said.
Whether that was a backhanded comment about what happened at Texas A&M, well, that’s for you to decide.
Anyway, Georgia (13-8) now enters the toughest stretch of its season with at least a little restored confidence. It will be mammoth underdogs at Kentucky on Tuesday, and won’t be expected to win its next game, at South Carolina. Then Florida visits.
Does Georgia need to win one of these next three to have any sort of reasonable shot at an at-large berth? Probably. Does it perhaps need to win two of the three? Maybe so.
But there are still 10 games to go, plus the SEC tournament. It’s a long season, and after a difficult period, the Bulldogs hope they got off the mat emotionally on Saturday.
“What we’ve been through is part of the game of basketball. That’s what makes the game a love-hate relationship,” Frazier said. “I’ve got to give credit to my guys, they’ve been battling, I haven’t been really playing well the last couple games. But every game, minus the Alabama game, we’ve been right there in that. So for me, and for the team, I think it’s stay the course.”