Rules of Engagement

ATHENS – Losing inside Stegeman Coliseum is what hurts the most about Georgia's stunning defeat at the hands of Tennessee Tuesday night.

Not the way the loss went down. Not the buzzer-beater shot by Volunteers' center Brian Williams. Not the no-call as Williams climbed over the back of Chris Barnes to get in position for the winning shot.

All those factors make the loss tough to accept. But they're now irrelevant.

What stings the most is the fact the game was dropped at home.

And even worse, Georgia caught Tennessee at a time when Volunteers' head coach Bruce Pearl (suspended for eight conference games) didn't even travel to Athens with the team.

"This really hurts us," said senior Chris Barnes.

Entering Tuesday night's game with Tennessee, Georgia was filling the role of "early conference favorite" quite nicely.

The model to follow when aspiring to win the conference is simple.

Lock down games at home. Brush off tough losses within the division on the road. Defeat all teams from the SEC West.

Georgia had already beaten traditional favorite Kentucky at Stegeman. And it had also bounced back from a tough loss at Vanderbilt with a convincing win at Ole Miss.

So even though Georgia had only played three conference games, the Bulldogs were already making their initial statement as contenders.

Tuesday night they contradicted their previous statement.

Beginning a three-game home stand, Georgia dropped what arguably was to be the easiest to win.

I know victories over Tennessee don't come easy.

But the Bulldogs were undefeated at home. Tennessee has been up and down all season - with losses to Charlotte and Oakland. And Pearl was still in Knoxville while the game was played.

Understand that no team in the East has been dominant thus far, and nobody is undefeated, making each team seem beatable on any given night. With a lot of basketball left to be played any and every scenario is still in play in a league that figures to be topsy-turvy.

Any of those scenarios that figure Georgia will end up on top of the East starts with winning at home. Especially since the Bulldogs' two conference losses have come at the hands of teams currently rated at the bottom of the division standings.

The loss places Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee ahead of Georgia in the standings. Sure, there are a ton of games left to determine who will ultimately win, but the loss Tuesday showed Georgia was beatable at home. That's not the feeling Georgia needs to convey.

"When we go (to Tennessee) we're going to hopefully come out with a win," Georgia junior Travis Leslie said.

The key word in Leslie's statement is "hopefully." That's what playing on the road in the conference amounts to - especially considering Fox is 0-6 playing in the gyms of his Eastern foes.

"There are going to be a lot of battles in this league," Fox said.

Fox is right; Georgia has 12 more SEC battles to fight.

He should also know: capitalizing in familiar, friendly territory is a basic rule of engagement.

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