ATHENS — Sometimes you’ve just got to eat it.
Other times call for Whiffle Ball.
Whatever the formula, Georgia basketball got a much-needed warm and fuzzy night on Wednesday, upsetting No. 13 Auburn 65-55 before a sold-out Stegeman Coliseum.
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The Bulldogs’ players celebrated with the student section. Coach Tom Crean celebrated with administrators and boosters.
It’s the first time Georgia has beaten two Top 15 teams in the same season since 2003-04. It was the highest-ranked opponent UGA has beaten at home since topping No. 11 Florida in 2012.
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl limped off into the night, but not before dispensing wisdom in his postgame press conference.
“It’s a rebuilding culture, and it’s a work ethic,” Pearl said, explaining what he has done at Auburn, turning a football school into a Final Four basketball program after sustaining a losing conference record his first three seasons on The Plains.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve had a few more guys that were here that lost those games,” said Pearl, 7-1 in his last eight games against ranked teams. “You’ve got to eat some of that for a little while. It doesn’t taste good. Then you’ve got to do something about it the following year.”
Georgia (13-13, 3-10 SEC) doesn’t want to wait until next year with freshman Anthony Edwards expected to head to the NBA as the No. 1 draft pick after this season.
The Bulldogs’ fans want to soak it in now, too, as evidenced by the seventh sellout crowd of the season turning out in force on a Wednesday night.
“The bottom line is we’re building a program,” said Crean, who resuscitated Indiana basketball some 10 years ago, ultimately leading the Hoosiers to two outright Big Ten titles.
“We are going through adversity, but you don’t get a program built if you lose momentum with your fans. They are staying with us, and I’m so thankful for that.”
Crean said there were big-time prospects in the building, along with the national ESPN2 television audience looking on.
As difficult as the past two months have been — Georgia had lost eight of nine before snapping what had been a five-game losing streak to Auburn on Wednesday night — Crean kept things in perspective.
Yes, the Bulldogs had blown double-digit leads in four of the past five losses, making the same mistakes not communicating and standing around on offense.
But there are nine freshmen on the team. And the upperclassmen — while willing — have never played in the NCAA tournament and are still learning to play with poise.
“Every day, we’ve got to put a lot of time in what does this team need, and keep getting them fresh, keep their energy high — their concentration and focus spans are really, really tough,” Crean said. “And some of it is lack of age, some of it is because they have never been through things like this.”
Crean said he surprised his team with an impromptu Whiffle Ball game in the middle of a practice session before the road trip to Texas A&M.
Georgia fought hard, but lost a close one in College Station.
But the team’s spirit, on display Wednesday, remains alive and well.
Freshman point guard Sahvir Wheeler, like Crean, credited the Georgia fans for some of that.
“That home base is still sticking with us, a very special shout out to them,” Wheeler said. “They still believe. They still are showing up. They definitely had a presence and an impact on the game.
“Thank you DawgNation and keep continuing to support us on that.”
Pearl, who has turned Auburn’s home arena into a “Jungle” worthy of ESPN Basketball GameDay, took note of what Crean has already done.
“Just look at this building, just look at the energy of the building and the student support and the energy that he brings,” Pearl said. “He’s recruited really well and he’s got a lot of kids coming back.