ATHENS – Mark Fox had always sat on the chair at his postgame press conference. This time he stood, for some reason. The easy crack is because the seat was too hot. Whatever his reasoning, he stood.
“Our team’s not playing well. And that blame lies with me,” Fox said after Georgia’s latest loss, 72-60 to No. 19 Florida. It was Georgia’s fifth straight SEC loss. “We’re not nearly the defensive team that we’ve been the last four or five years. And then offensively, we’re not playing well, didn’t play well tonight. …. We didn’t play well. And didn’t start the game well. And that certainly is my responsibility.”
This has become perhaps the roughest, most dire stretch of Fox’s tenure. A season that began with thoughts of an NCAA bid has careened downward, with Georgia 13-11 overall and now third from the bottom of the SEC standings.
Fox was asked what he would say to fans that are discouraged.
“The great news it that they care,” Fox said. “The great news is we have people now that care. Because for a long time we didn’t have (that). And they could be disappointed, because I haven’t gotten this team to play – to find victory. Even though on nights we’ve played well. But we have to stay the determined course, and keep fighting forward.”
Athletics director Greg McGarity was watching the press conference from the back of the room, as he sometimes does. When it was over McGarity waited outside the door to greet Fox, shaking his hand and slapping Fox encouragingly on the other shoulder.
They didn’t say much. There’s wasn’t much to say.
Fox may have pointed the blame at himself. His senior point guard, J.J. Frazier, pointed it at the players. He didn’t didn’t name names, but indicated an overall lack of … well, something.
“I don’t think we were ready to really compete as a unit. As a team we weren’t ready to compete, which is unacceptable,” Frazier said. “We need 14 guys competing their tail off every play. And tonight I don’t think we had that.”
He was asked to expound on that.
“When I say 14 guys, I mean whatever you’re doing, if you’re not playing as much we need the energy, if you are playing give everything you’ve got,” Frazier said. “As a team that’s what we need more of. We ain’t going to lay down. I’m not going to let us lay down. That’s now who I am.”
The thing is, Georgia had actually played well most of this season. It just didn’t have the wins to show for it. It took Kentucky and Florida, two ranked teams, to overtime on the road. It only lost by two at South Carolina last Saturday. It lost by one at Texas A&M in the clock malfunction game.
But Tuesday night’s game was a dud. Georgia fell behind by 16, rallied to tie it, and then fell apart in the second half, playing sloppy on both ends, but especially on offense.
Afterwards Fox appeared to lash out at his team’s inability to hold onto the ball – it committed 16 turnovers. Georgia has played more up-tempo this year, and the result has been more points. But it’s also meant more sloppy play, especially in the half-court.
“We may have to go back and play like we did a couple years ago: Very slow. And let me control every possession from the bench. And make every decision from the bench,” Fox said. “That may be what we have to do. We’re not making great decisions with the ball. We’re not helping each other.”
Small forward Juwan Parker pointed out there were still seven regular-season games and then the SEC tournament. The season’s not over. Even if it may feel like it to many on the outside.
“We can’t give up hope now,” Parker said. “There’s eight games left.”
It’s all the team can tell itself now. Eight games left. But if something doesn’t change soon, those eight games won’t be a salvation, they’ll be a march to nowhere.