NASHVILLE – As J.J. Frazier dribbled and dribbled, the clock winding down, along with seemingly Georgia’s season, his teammates moved farther back. They had seen this before. They knew what was about to happen.
“It’s heart over height definitely in that case,” teammate Yante Maten said later of the 5-foot 10 Frazier. “He told me, when he got back to the locker room, he said he said he knew what he was going to do.”
What he would do was, once again, rescue his team with an amazing final minute: A brilliant dribble-drive through the South Carolina defense, a floating shot to tie it, then a strip steal and the game-winning free throw with 2.1 seconds left.
The result: Georgia is into the SEC semifinals for the third straight year, beating South Carolina 65-64 on Friday night. Now the Bulldogs move on to face Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.
“We always say, you can have all the ability in the world, but if you don’t have that ticking inside you you’re not going to be the best you’re going to be. That’s what I strive to be,” Frazier said. “I play with emotion, I play with heart. It trickles down to my teammates.”
1. THE FLOATER
Georgia had trailed most of the game, taking its first lead with three minutes left, only to be trailing again with 50.5 seconds left. Frazier had the ball, but the Gamecock defense had him boxed in as the shot clock wound down.
Mark Fox watched this from the coaching box, let it play out.
“I had a timeout left and I didn’t use it,” Fox said. “I wanted the ball in his hands.”
Frazier’s teammates moved away, leaving him space.
“We just get out of the way and make sure he has room to operate,” senior guard Kenny Gaines said.
Frazier finally attacked the basket, splitting a double-team, and with a defender covering threw up the floater. It went in, tying it with 24 seconds left.
“I want to keep the ball in my hands,” Frazier said. “I saw a crease in the defense and put it in.”
2. STRIP, STEAL AND GAME-WINNER
South Carolina coach Frank Martin didn’t call timeout. He wanted the ball in the hands of his best player, Sindarius Thornwell, who had carried the team in the absence of leading scorer Michael Carrera, out with a hip injury.
Thornwell had the ball near the top of the key. Frazier was on him. Thornwell dribbled too low, and Frazier flailed at the ball, knocking it away. As Frazier grabbed at it Thornwell hit him, and a foul was called.
“I didn’t know the situation, which is a mental mistake by me,” Thornwell said. “I thought we were down when I turned the ball over. So it was like a reaction to go for the ball.”
Frazier hit the first free throw, giving Georgia the lead. Fox called a timeout and in what Frazier called “a mutual decision,” they chose to have him miss the second free throw, as the Gamecocks didn’t have a timeout and wouldn’t be able to set up a play.
It worked: The rebounded miss resulted in a long outlet pass that Georgia’s Charles Mann intercepted. The celebration ensued.
Georgia (19-12) beat South Carolina (23-8) for the third time this season. That’s the first time since 1984 that the Bulldogs have defeated any team three times in one season.
It’s also the first time since 2008 that the Bulldogs have won more than one game in the SEC tournament. And it’s the first time since 1983-85 that Georgia has made the SEC semifinals in three straight years.
Before the season Fox showed his team the movie “Unbroken,” and he hearkened back to that Friday night. Georgia has now won five straight after the low point of its season, the loss at Auburn.
“Like we always say, we never stop fighting,” Gaines said. “We take the characteristic of our coach on, we always keep pushing. Like the movie Unbroken, we can’t be broken.”
Georgia won its fifth straight despite playing its most sloppy game in recent weeks. It shot 39 percent from the floor, turned it over 15 times and allowed the Gamecocks to get 16 offensive rebounds. The Bulldogs were also only able to go 3-of-12 from beyond the 3-point arc.
But the Bulldogs, who trailed by as many as 11 in both halves, kept coming back.
“They had us kind of rattled. But we battled back,” Fox said.
5. NOW, KENTUCKY
The reward for Georgia is a match-up with a Kentucky team that won by 34 points in the team’s previous meeting. The Wildcats are coming off a 24-point win over Alabama in its quarterfinal game.
It will also be Georgia’s third game in three days, and second game in less than 24 hours, in front of what will surely be a packed, blue-clad crowd at Bridgestone Arena.
“I mean, it’s a monumental challenge,” Fox said. “We obviously didn’t think one second about it until this game ended. So we’ll have to come up with something because they whipped us pretty good the first time.”
“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” Gaines said. “We’re on a winning streak right now. So we just want to keep it going.”