ATHENS – Georgia’s task was to take the momentum of the past week and make sure it carried into next week’s SEC tournament. The Bulldogs did that, even if this one didn’t look as pretty as the previous two.
In its regular season finale, Georgia held off Alabama, 70-63, giving the Bulldogs a three-game winning streak heading into the SEC tournament, providing some hope at the end of what until recently had been a disappointing season.
“It’s something that we knew we could do,” senior guard Kenny Gaines said. “We just had to get hot at the right time. Rather get hot late than early. So we’re in a good position right now.”
Georgia (17-12 overall and 10-8 in the SEC) recorded its third straight winning SEC season for only the second time in program history.
1. SEC TOURNAMENT SEEDING
The Bulldogs will be the No. 6 seed and face No. 11 seed Mississippi State next Thursday night, 30 minutes after completion of the game that starts at 7 p.m. E.T. Georgia won at Mississippi State earlier this season. The winner of that game gets No. 3 South Carolina, which Georgia swept this season.
So in order to reach the SEC semifinals for a third straight year, Georgia must beat two teams it is 3-0 against, including road wins at both teams.
This is the first time since 1997 that Georgia enters the SEC tournament on a three-game winning streak.
2. THE SENIOR’S LEGACIES
Gaines and Charles Mann, who were honored before the game with a nice ovation, got an even bigger one when Mark Fox was able to sub them out one after the other in the final moments.
This was the last game at Stegeman Coliseum – at least in the regular season. There’s always the chance the Bulldogs could end up in the NIT and hosting a game. That wouldn’t be the ideal way for the pair to go out, but they’ve already accomplished something.
Gaines and Mann helped their teams finish at .500 or better in SEC play each of their first four years. Georgia had never gone four straight years doing that in 84 years of SEC membership.
“It means a lot,” Mann said. “Of course I wish we could’ve done more. I wish we could’ve been guaranteed a bid in the (NCAA) tournament. But we can’t dwell on things we can’t control anymore. We’ll see, and finish it out, and pass the torch when it’s done.”
3. A DIFFERENT TYPE OF WIN
Rather than its guards hitting big shots, as tended to happen in the team’s recent wins, this one was more about the frontcourt.
Georgia dominated the glass, out-rebounding Alabama 48-26. Forward Yante Maten led the team with 19 points, including the key baskets as Georgia pulled ahead in the latter part of the second half.
Maten wasn’t alone: Forward Derek Ogbeide, who entered averaging only four points a game, doubled that, including six of the team’s first 13 points. Freshman forward Mike Edwards provided a solid 13 minutes off the bench, chipping in four points and four rebounds before fouling out.
Charles Mann, who mostly plays small forward now, also had 12 points and seven rebounds. The Bulldogs made up for their worst 3-point shooting in some time by scoring often in the paint and getting to the free throw line, where they went 26-for-32.
“We anticipated with the quick turnaround that we probably wouldn’t be the prettiest offensive group,” said Fox, whose team played less than 48 hours after its win at South Carolina.
4. BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
After carrying the team two days earlier, Gaines and J.J. Frazier were missing for one half on Saturday. They had zero points, and yet their team still had a two-point lead. They finally got going enough for Georgia to pull this one out.
Gaines and Frazier were a combined 0-for-14 in the first half. This after scoring a combined 39 in the win at South Carolina.
“My hand was a hurting a little bit today,” Gaines said. “But I don’t know, shots just weren’t falling int he first half. … But as along as we were winning I was still in good spirits.”
Their droughts didn’t last long halftime: Gaines nailed a 3 from the corner 14 seconds into the second half, and Frazier nailed a 3 on the next possession. That gave Georgia its biggest lead of the game, 33-25. But those were their only points in the first nine minutes of the half, and Alabama re-took the lead.
The two guards got going again late. Gaines hit a step-back 3 to put Georgia up 49-48. Frazier hit a running bank shot to push the lead to three, then hit free throws down the stretch. Frazier finished with 17 points, 12 of them at the free throw line.
5. BIG FOOTBALL NAMES IN ATTENDANCE
Kirby Smart was coutside with his family as his current school took on his former one.
Smart, of course, was at Alabama for the past nine years as the football team’s defensive coordinator, before coming back last December to his alma mater as head coach.
Bill Battle, Alabama’s athletics director, was also at the game. Beforehand Battle opined that Smart “will do great.”
Also in attendance was Frank Beamer, the longtime Virginia Tech football coach who retired after last season. He was with his son Shane, who is Smart’s special teams coach.