Winning When No One Cares

ATHENS - The easy thing to do was to lose this game.

And judging from the first-half performance of these Bulldogs, that loss seemed to be on the way.

Somewhat understandably Georgia, now 12-5 and inching its way ever closer to a higher seed in the NCAAs, came out sluggish. Marcus Thornton, who must have straps on his back for carrying this team, was about all this group had to offer in the first half.

Maybe the players were still celebrating their Saturday win over the not-so-Mighty Gators, which would have been massively premature considering how hard Florida was popped at home tonight by LSU.

Perhaps they were thinking about what they were going to be rather than the fight they had on their hands in that moment. The mind can wander during conference play - and in the first half tonight it wandered all the way to making Georgia fortunate only have a six-point halftime deficit. They played much worse than that.

Again, the easy thing would have been to fall back into the same old rut - winning a big game and following it up with a loss.

That didn’t happen tonight, and I think that shows that this team - at this moment at least - has developed a particular quantity of mental toughness that a team needs to do something special. This was a manhood game: it was a test to determine if Georgia was serious about getting to the NCAAs.

It’s easy to get up for the Gators. It’s easy to get up for the Cats or Vols. It’s easy to be ready to play in front of a packed house. How often do those things happen in Athens these days? Three times a year? Maybe?

These Dawgs will get their crowds, and they can’t avoid the Cats. But if this season is to be special (for me that involves getting into the NCAAs) this group is going to have to win “boring” games like this one.

No one cares about Ole Miss. I get that. Everyone gets that.

But that doesn’t matter. This win counts just as much as a win over Kentucky would in terms of conference play. Georgia has to handle business like it did tonight. There will be a disappointing loss along the way here and there (shoot, they’ve already had two of those), but these games - against a quality team in the conference at home - are going to have to be the times where these Dawgs step up and win.

Georgia’s assistant coaches, according to head coach Mark Fox, were concerned with the players’ mood before the game. They were right. Georgia came out relatively flat and unimpressive.

The Rebels were clearly the better team the first 20 minutes of the game. Their high ball screen action to find ways to get J.J. Frazier or Taylor Echols on the block is concerning and is something this team is going to have to deal with in the future. Fox went to a zone, but zones can be a very dangerous limited-time-only crutch in college basketball (that’s another article for another day).

But then halftime happened, and the Dawgs outscored Ole Miss by double digits, thus proving who the better team was on this night. This is one of the games Georgia will look back on as a reason they got to the NCAAs. It could have gone the other way, but it didn’t, and that’s all that matters tonight.

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