ATHENS, Ga. — The new Associated Press Top 25 poll brought good news — and a foreboding reminder — to Georgia Monday.
The good news was that Georgia broke into the Top 25 at No. 20, thanks to last week's wins over then-No. 8 Kentucky and Tennessee. Georgia (14-2 overall) is 2-0 against ranked teams (including an early season win over Georgetown) and 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference.
Any ranking is significant for a Georgia program short on basketball tradition. Georgia's all-time history in the polls takes up only one-half of a page in the Georgia media guide. Georgia hasn't been ranked as high as No. 20 since Dec. 16, 1997.
The poll also reminded Coach Jim Harrick of the difficult road ahead. This week, Georgia plays host to No. 16 Alabama Wednesday night and then visits No. 2 Florida on Saturday.
Said Harrick Monday: "I look around and we had a great week last week and we have to play two Top 25 teams and then we come home and play Arkansas (on Jan. 23).''
More and more, Florida is looking like the team to beat in the SEC, but so far, Georgia is keeping pace in the Eastern Division.
The 88-84 win at Kentucky was dramatic because it broke a 16-game losing streak in the series and was only the Bulldogs' third win ever in Lexington. But for drama, it will be difficult for Georgia to top Saturday night's last-second 73-70 victory over Tennessee, capped by Ezra Williams' desperate 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Asked if he thinks Georgia is enjoying a charmed season, Harrick said: "Maybe so far. We did the first half of the season last year and then it all blew up on us.''
Georgia players only have to look back one year for a lesson in how quickly things can turn. When Georgia took a double-overtime victory over sixth-ranked Tennessee on Jan. 27 last season, it gave the Bulldogs six straight wins, a 13-7 overall record and a 6-1 SEC mark. Then came four straight conference losses that helped lead to a 16-15 final mark.
Georgia also briefly entered the Top 25 poll at No. 25 after last year's win over Tennessee, but that lasted only one week. Georgia made the NCAA tournament only on the strength of its RPI and 9-7 conference record.
It's far too early to think about the NCAA tournament this year, but Monday's polls — Georgia is No. 23 in the coaches poll — confirm that the Bulldogs are earning national respect.
"We can do a lot more,'' said point guard Rashad Wright. "We're still trying to get some kinks out and jell together more.''
Still, a team that has won at Rupp Arena and pulled out a last-second win over a hungry Tennessee squad has more reason to believe it can survive more challenges this week.
"I think we are a great team,'' Williams insisted after his game-winning shot. "We just have to keep building. ... Two big wins like that this week are a big confidence boost for this team.''