The Georgia Bulldogs had their chances in their Tuesday night tilt with the Florida Gators; the Red and Black led 41-39 at the break, thanks chiefly to 80 per cent three-point shooting and a ten-rebound edge on the boards in the first half. Those advantages dissipated after intermission, as the more aggressive Gators dominated the rest of the way except in brief spurts. Although the Classic City Canines showed grit and heart in sending the game to overtime, the Sunshine State Saurians hit a miracle shot to force a second OT period and departed Athens with a 104-91 victory in their hip pockets.
The loss drops the Fox Hounds to 3-3 in conference play and continues a disturbing pattern of alternating victories and defeats since the start of SEC play at the first of January. Worse still, the setback strands the Athenians at 1-2 for their three-game homestand with a stretch of five road games in their next eight outings looming, including late February dates in Knoxville and Gainesville against division rivals who already got the better of Georgia in Stegeman Coliseum.
A wiser man than me previously made the reasonable point that the Bulldogs would need to win ten of their last 17 regular-season contests to feel comfortable about their prospects for making the NCAA Tournament field. In order to meet that goal, the Red and Black will need to win seven of their last eleven. Even assuming the Hoop Dogs sweep their remaining home games---a large assumption, considering that three of those five dates are with the South Carolina Gamecocks, the Vanderbilt Commodores, and the Xavier Musketeers---Georgia still will need to find two more victories on the road in conference play.
Earlier this afternoon, I was asked on the radio whether tonight’s game was a "must win." I replied that they all were "must wins," in the sense that the victories would have to come from somewhere, so any loss would place added pressure on each subsequent outing. While a victory tonight would not have given the Bulldogs their biggest win of the Mark Fox era, the Classic City Canines needed the victory they allowed to slip through their grasp. The fact that the loss was to Florida only adds insult to injury.
The stat sheet says this game was very even. The stat sheet says Florida hit eight three-pointers to Georgia’s seven. The stat sheet says Georgia scored 44 points in the paint to Florida’s 42. The stat sheet says both teams pulled down 47 boards, with the Bulldogs leading by one in defensive rebounds (30-29) and the Gators leading by one in offensive rebounds (18-17). The stat sheet says the Orange and Blue shot 46.1 per cent from the field (35 of 76) while the Red and Black shot 45.3 per cent from the field (34 of 75). At best, the stat sheet provides no solace; at worst, the stat sheet lies.
The only consolation to be found in this outcome is that it confirms, once and for all, that we are, in fact, a basketball school. I know that because, right now, I feel every bit as lousy as I did after Georgia similarly squandered a stirring comeback by suffering a crushing overtime defeat to Florida in football. Basketball now officially has joined football, baseball, and gymnastics on the list of University of Georgia athletics in which I am sufficiently emotionally invested that I feel utterly devastated when the ‘Dawgs lose at them.
So we’ve got that going for us, I guess.