The 2008 SEC Tournament Championship Game ended just as the 2007 one did — with an Arkansas loss. The Razorbacks fell 66-57 to Georgia on Sunday in Alexander Memorial Coliseum, and the devastation was just as painful, just as brutal as their 2007 defeat to Florida.
In fact, this may have hurt worse, considering the Hogs lost to the Eastern Division's No. 6 seed, capping the most improbable championship run in SEC Tournament history.
"I'm so mad," Arkansas senior Vincent Hunter said in the Arkansas locker room, his head buried in his hands. "We wanted this championship so bad."
Sure, Arkansas has the NCAA Tournament to get excited about. And the Razorbacks found out 35 minutes after the contest that they'd play Indiana on Friday in Raleigh, N.C., as the East Regional's No. 9 seed. But even the thought of their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance couldn't comfort the Hogs as the Bulldogs stormed the court after their unfathomable SEC Tournament title.
As Georgia's players rushed the floor, and the slightly pro-Georgia crowd of 3,700 looked on in amazement, Stefan Welsh couldn't move. He sat slumped on the end of Arkansas' bench, motionless, his hands behind his head. Charles Thomas covered his entire face with a towel as he sat on a chair, Patrick Beverley just stared into space and Sonny Weems hid his head in his jersey.
The initial shock of the moment was too much for them to handle. Georgia (17-16), which won only four SEC games in the regular season, won the same amount in four days in Atlanta, the last three in a 29-hour span. And it was apparent from start to finish Sunday that the Bulldogs deserved to land an unlikely spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Georgia simply willed its way past Arkansas (22-11) and the three other SEC teams that got in its way.
"I think I speak for everybody in saying we didn't really care who they matched us up against, we just knew we were going to walk with each other and try to advance like we did," Georgia guard Billy Humphrey said.
For two days, for two impressive victories, Arkansas exhibited the same chemistry, the same passion, in toppling No. 18 Vanderbilt and No. 4 Tennessee.
It wasn't present enough Sunday afternoon. The first play of the game was indicative of the type of struggles Arkansas experienced. Darian Townes tapped the opening tip to Hunter, who tried to flip the ball to Gary Ervin. Georgia's Sundiata Gaines stole the pass and darted in for an uncontested layup. The Bulldogs then proceeded to storm out to a 28-9 lead as the Hogs missed 11 of their first 16 shots.
Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said his players' effort wasn't the problem. Arkansas' abysmal 2-for-17 output from 3-point range didn't determine the outcome, he said, and neither did the fact the Bulldogs outrebounded Arkansas 40-31.
Georgia's overachieving performance was simply the difference.
"I think it was Georgia," Pelphrey said. "They just played really well early. I don't think we were doggin' it. I think we were trying. We understood what was at stake. Georgia was just better than us."
The Bulldogs were more effective than Arkansas except for a 3-minute, 32-second stretch late in the second half when the Hogs went on a 17-5 spurt. Georgia led just 56-53 with 4:18 left after Weems and Townes, who each scored a team-high 17 points, spurred the run that gave Arkansas hope.
Dennis Felton's team wasn't threatened for long, though. An Albert Jackson dunk and a Humphrey 3-pointer stretched Georgia's lead back to eight points and ensured the Razorbacks would spend another Selection Sunday unhappy.
All the Hogs can do now is move forward and try to ignore the pain of coming so close to cutting down nets in Atlanta — again.
"We can't get this game back," Weems said. "It's over with. We've got to concentrate on what we have in the future."
Why The Bulldogs Won
Georgia stormed out to a 28-9 lead, outrebounded Arkansas 40-31, nailed seven of its 15 shots from 3-point range and forced 15 turnovers.
Why The Razorbacks Lost
Arkansas came out flat, shot 11.8 percent on 3-pointers and had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio for the first time in its last six games.
2 Combined points scored by Patrick Beverley and Stefan Welsh
4 SEC victories by Georgia in the regular season; SEC Tournament victories by Georgia
15 3-pointers missed by Arkansas out of 17
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