ATHENS – As one would expect, the atmosphere on the Georgia men’s basketball team’s plane ride back from Kentucky was not upbeat.
“It was cold. Literally. And it was quiet. There were a lot of people in thought,” freshman Derek Ogbeide said. “It was supposed to be flushed by then, because we’re supposed to flush it and move on, but I personally had a hard time flushing it. But eventually it was done and we moved on.”
How true that is may have a big impact on the rest of Georgia’s season.
While the Bulldogs weren’t expected to upset Kentucky, losing by 34 left a mark. An embarrassing one, especially this late in the season, when ideally a team is improving and coming into its own.
The team had Wednesday off. Then it had what sophomore forward Yante Maten called “a live practice” on Thursday. And around campus, according to Maten, he only heard positive thoughts.
“I have heard people say, ‘Keep your head up, keep fighting through.’ But we were gonna do that regardless,” Maten said. “That’s not how our head coach is built, that’s not how we’re built. We’re fighters.”
Georgia (13-9 overall, 6-5) still has a shot at a good season, including a second straight NCAA tournament bid. But it will require winning at least four of its remaining seven games before the SEC tournament. Probably more.
First up, Mississippi State, which has a poor record (10-13, 3-8 in the SEC) and RPI rank (167). But on Tuesday night, Mississippi State routed Arkansas by 32 points.
When Georgia head coach Mark Fox was asked about that, his response seemed to be half about Mississippi State and half about his own team.
“You have to understand, when you have 18 straight (SEC) play-dates, no bye date anymore, we add in the Big-12 SEC challenge, so you have some games that just make you scratch your head,” Fox said. “The grind, the kids get worn down, emotionally, mentally and physically. I don’t think you can put too much into comparing scores.
“What I do think you can do is look at their team, and realize that with a new coach (Ben Howland), a new system, it takes time to implement that, and change the culture. And now you’re seeing great progress with their team, because they’re playing extremely well.”
The Bulldogs have been quite an inconsistent bunch. In between two 34-point losses, they went 4-2, the only two losses on the road, and one of the wins against No. 25 South Carolina.
So what happened? Fox said he didn’t have a good feeling about the Kentucky game even before the team left Athens — because it took so long to leave Athens. There was a three-hour delay due to a mechanical problem with the plane.
“I was concerned about our team going to Lexington. Late game, travel delay, we did not manage that very well,” Fox said. “And that’s taking nothing away from Kentucky’s team. But I think we were a little bit concerned about how we were handling all that as we neared tip-off.”
The game at Mississippi State tips off at 8 p.m. EST. So this trip could at least start off better if the airplane doesn’t have mechanical problems.
Then, the big question is whether the Bulldogs have harnessed Tuesday’s embarrassment into the right emotional energy.
“It was one (loss). It felt like six but it was one,” Fox said. “As a competitor you’ve gotta be able to get back up and re-group and play again.”