For Georgia, It's Been A Dog-Eat-Dog Stretch

FAYETTEVILLE -- Georgia coach Dennis Felton refers to himself as an "aggressive scheduler," but frankly that's not much of a secret.

Even if Felton didn't say a word, it's apparent while looking at Georgia's brutal stretch over the past two weeks that he has no problems playing some of the nation's top teams back-to-back-to-back.

"It's been a steep challenge," Felton said.

Since late December, the Bulldogs (9-5) have played a schedule that would make for a challenging bracket in the NCAA Tournament, let alone a tough stretch for an unranked team dealing with injuries.

First, Georgia lost 75-60 at No. 17 Clemson, the only Division I college basketball team still undefeated. Three days later, Felton watched his Bulldogs come up short in a 64-54 loss to No. 3 Wisconsin, which has emerged as a national title contender.

And to cap the brutal three-game run, Georgia traveled to No. 2 Florida and lost 67-51 on Jan. 6 to the defending national champions.

"I was pleased with the way that we competed in all those games against No. 2 in the country, against No. 3 in the country and against the only undefeated team in the country," Felton said. "At the same time, I was growing concerned with what kind of effect it would have on our team's morale and confidence."

To make matters worse, the Bulldogs have had to go through the past three weeks with guard Sundiata Gaines -- who leads the team in assists (4.3) and rebounds per game (5.8) -- bothered by torn ligaments in his right ankle.

Felton said he was pleased with the character his team showed in the three consecutive games against Top 25 teams, even if they all ended in losses. He also thinks his aggressive scheduling could help his players now that they've approached the start of their Southeastern Conference schedule.

Still, three straight games against Clemson, Wisconsin and Florida? Can it get much harder?

"Ideally, I wouldn't like to have them all in a row like that," said Felton, whose team got a brief reprieve in the form of an 80-56 win over South Carolina on Wednesday. "But scheduling is hard enough and sometimes you can't get precisely what you want in terms of order of games."

Georgia isn't alone in having a recent stretch of tough games. Kentucky suffered losses to No. 4 UCLA, No. 20 Memphis and top-ranked North Carolina during a three-week span in late November and early December.

Meanwhile, Auburn fell to No. 9 Oklahoma State and Wisconsin on consecutive days on Nov. 24 and 25, then lost 74-66 to No. 7 Pittsburgh eight days later.

"We're not ready to play those teams consistently, I don't think," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "Hopefully, that made us a little bit tougher for our league."

Felton hopes the same goes for his team, as well.

"There is no shame in losing at Florida and at Clemson and at Georgia Tech and against Wisconsin," Felton said.

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