ATHENS – As the Georgia basketball team has found itself the past week, reinvigorating its season, there’s been an inward battle over vocabulary.
Desperate is the word that senior guard Kenny Gaines has been using to describe his attitude, and that of his team. But head coach Mark Fox read that and didn’t like it.
“I told them I hate that word and I don’t want to hear it anymore,” Fox said. “I don’t want to hear it anymore. Because desperate means you’re panicking. And we didn’t need to panic. We needed to be determined. And I don’t like that word. We need to be determined, not desperate.”
It seems a semantical difference, and in any case it’s worked: Georgia enters Saturday’s regular season finale against Alabama with a chance to win its third in a row, having played two of its best games of the season in the past week.
Now Georgia (16-12 overall) has a chance to carry momentum into next week’s SEC tournament, where it could be seeded as high as fifth.
But it could fall as low as 10th, depending on what else happens, and lose a good piece of that momentum by falling to Alabama (17-12), which remains dangerous despite its recent struggles.
Alabama has seen its once-promising NCAA chances dwindle lately, and enters the game ranked 69th in the RPI – only six spots ahead of Georgia. So if the Bulldogs win Saturday, the two teams are probably on equal footing entering the SEC tournament: Needing a long run to have any chance.
Georgia may have momentum and home court on its side Saturday, but it’s also facing a short turn-around: Less than 48 hours between games. There is barely time to prepare a gameplan and hold a practice, not to mention the tired legs. Alabama had an extra day to recuperate.
“The short turnarounds aren’t awful if both teams aren’t making the short turnaround. Obviously this time it’s not that way,” Fox said. “So we’ll have to just meet the challenge.”
If his team plays the way it has in the past two games, it should be all right.
Gaines has led the surge, scoring and defending well as Georgia beat Ole Miss by 14 at home, then won at South Carolina on Thursday.
Georgia and Kentucky are the only two visiting teams to win at South Carolina this year.
“I don’t feel like we’ve been a different team. I feel like the ball’s just been going in and things have been going our way,” Gaines said. “We have the sticktoittiveness that we always have every year. Regardless of injury last year or this year we lost a couple of games close. But it’s just in our character. Coach Fox has instilled that in us. We just take after our coach.”
The two wins came after the low point of Georgia’s season, the loss at Auburn. That’s when Gaines invoked playing desperate. He did again after Thursday’s win, though with Fox’s words still fresh he tried to thread the needle a bit.
“We played determined. But within ourselves we said that we were a desperate team,” Gaines said. “So we wanted to come out and play desperate.”