ATHENS, Ga. — His bench depleted by suspensions but his confidence fortified by Saturday's upset win at Florida, Georgia coach Jim Harrick has this to say about the relentless, attacking pressure Arkansas will bring to Stegeman Coliseum tonight:
"It is not going to change what we do.''
Harrick has seen his offense survive the pressure of Kentucky's full-court game and the magic of Rupp Arena. Harrick has seen his disciplined team overpower the man-to-man pressure provided by then-No. 2 Florida. Harrick has seen his system prevail over No. 14 Georgetown, Colorado, Minnesota, Georgia Tech, Pepperdine, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.
Now that Harrick's 15th-ranked Bulldogs (15-3 overall, 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference) are proving to be the surprise team in the conference, it is up to Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson and other coaches to question if their teams can withstand the challenge of playing Georgia.
With Chris Daniels and Rashad Wright providing the physical and emotional toughness and Ezra Williams and Jarvis Hayes setting the scoring pace, Georgia has its highest national ranking since Jan. 2, 1996, when it spent one week at No. 14.
There was no clue provided Tuesday as to when Georgia will learn more about the status of its two players on indefinite suspensions — starting forward Steve Thomas and backup point guard Tony Cole. But instead of falling into despair or taking last week's loss to Alabama as a sign that they cannot win without Thomas and Cole, Georgia's players answered with an upset win that topped the victory at Kentucky.
Never before had Georgia beaten a team ranked as high as No. 2, but the 84-79 upset of Florida left the Bulldogs tied with the Gators for first place in the SEC East.
Now comes Arkansas, a modest 10-7 overall and 2-3 in the SEC. Picked to finish second in the West, the Razorbacks are in danger of losing four straight SEC games for the first time since joining the conference.
Despite the struggles, Arkansas will come at Georgia with constant substitutions designed to wear down the Bulldogs, who are down to six players who originally came to Athens on basketball scholarships.
"We won't go 12 or 13 deep, but I think this team is one of the best-conditioned teams in the conference,'' said Hayes. "We're just in great shape. We could run with Kentucky.'' Added Harrick: "We just have to take care of the basketball.''
Where Florida attacked with a man-to-man press, Arkansas will use a trapping press that converges on Georgia's man with the ball.
Said Georgia point guard Rashad Wright, who ranks second in the SEC with 2.9 assists for every one turnover: "We just have to control the tempo of the game and play hard.''
Added Harrick: "You pass the ball against the zone traps. You dribble it against the man press.''
Georgia dribbled to the win at Florida; tonight it must pass over the Arkansas defense.
Georgia already has proved it can handle success. After winning in Lexington, Ky., for only the third time in the history of the program, Georgia came back to Athens and claimed a last-second win over Tennessee.
"Once again, we won't get ahead of ourselves,'' Hayes said. "We have to keep our mind focused on what we have to do. We still have to win games.''
With a win tonight at what is expected to be Georgia's third straight home sellout at Stegeman Coliseum, the Bulldogs would match their 16 wins of all last season. But Georgia is well past settling for a repeat of last year's win total.
Once Harrick realized Wright would be a composed floor leader and Daniels was a much better all-around player as a sophomore, the coach knew this could be a surprising season.
"Over 18 games, (Daniels) has been our most consistent player, no question,'' Harrick said. "... He's tough and he backs down from no one. He has been invaluable for us.''
That toughness helps Georgia to win on the road. Georgia played well at home against Tennessee but was not as sharp in a more lackluster home win over Vanderbilt.
"We've played better on the road than at home the last couple of games,'' Harrick said. "Now that bothers me. We've got to get that (home edge) back.''