ATHENS — It was a rather general, and predictable, question. And Mark Fox decided to use it to say something on his mind. Something the Georgia coach evidently had read and didn’t like.
Was there a moment a week ago, when all seemed lost, that he could pinpoint that a bounce back was coming? Fox, as he often does, offered up a preamble before answering. A pointed preamble.
“I know some people don’t like our players. I mean some of you, don’t like our players,” Fox said, speaking slowly to reporters gathered after his team’s 73-62 win Saturday over No. 18 Tennessee. “But I love them. And this league is a monster. And you’re going to have ups and downs. We had a couple of games where we didn’t play well. They stuck together and just kept trying to get better and play the game the right way.
“We didn’t make any drastic changes. We just kept doing what we do. And this week they were able to play sound basketball and beat two really good teams. So even though some of you don’t like them, I was pretty proud of them.”
Afterward, a few beat writers quickly consulted to try to figure out what Fox was referencing. No one was quite sure. This reporter wrote a week ago that this might be Fox’s most-talented team, which made the team’s record at that point — 13-11, losers of eight of the previous 10 games — so disappointing.
Last week did not fixed everything. But the Bulldogs did what they had to do, getting two good wins, including on paper their best win of the season, over a ranked Tennessee team. That followed an overtime win over Florida.
“We’re a good basketball team. We proved that this week,” Georgia senior forward Yante Maten said.
But what took so long into the season for that to happen?
“I mean, if I knew the answer to that question, it would have never happened,” Maten said. “We’re just trying to play together, play as a team. Play defensively, try to do everything that correlates to winning.”
It’s almost not worth pointing out Georgia’s NCAA Tournament résumé, because at this point we don’t know which team we’re going to get one week to the next. But if Georgia can keep this going — and the schedule is definitely manageable — then the Bulldogs will be in the mix.
Georgia has five “Quadrant 1” wins, per the NCAA’s revised formula — home wins over top 30 RPI teams, neutral-site wins over top 50 teams and away wins over top 75 teams — and four “Quadrant 2” wins. Georgia is No. 64 in the RPI rankings.
A tournament berth still might not be very likely, but it’s a lot more likely than it was a week ago.
“This was a quality win for us. This was a solid week,” Fox said. “But there’s more games in front. We’ve got to get ready for the next one.”
That would be at South Carolina, which helped get Georgia’s slide going with a 7-point win on the Bulldogs’ home floor on Jan. 13. The Gamecocks are not the same team that made the Final Four last season. They defeated Auburn on Saturday, but they are definitely beatable — and Georgia needs to do it to keep the run going. The margin for error is very small.
Maten and his teammates seemed to realize that.
“We’ve just got to focus on the next game and still play with that hunger we played this week with,” Maten said. “Every time we touched the court this week we were really hungry, and we showed that to ourselves, to the crowd and to the coaches. So we’ve just got to keep playing hungry.”