Georgia regroups for final games

ATHENS – Georgia's basketball players have all but given up on their optimistic goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament. Now, they're mainly hoping not to embarrass themselves.

"It wasn't too long ago we were 14-8 and had the whole postseason ahead of us," sophomore guard Kevin Brophy said. "Now we're fighting just to stay in touch for the NIT, let alone an NCAA bid."

The Bulldogs (14-11, 4-8 SEC) have lost three in a row heading into today's 7 p.m. game against South Carolina (14-11, 5-7). The game will be televised by ESPN. With four games left in the regular season, the possibility of a full-out nosedive is beginning to creep into the minds of the players and Coach Dennis Felton.

"I'm very concerned about that," Felton said. "I'm concerned that we show some resiliency here and some toughness and some fight to finish this season in a strong way."

Just two weeks ago, Felton was adamant that his team remain focused on its chance of making the NCAA Tournament. Now, even he is backing away from that.

"If we were to this year go to any postseason I would consider it to be very special," he said this week.

Cracks are starting to show under the strain of the losing streak. Some are bad luck – season-ending injuries to Terrance Woodbury and Kendrick Johnson -- and some are self-inflicted – freshmen guards Mike Mercer and Billy Humphrey being suspended for a violation of team rules.

"Having people missing class and being suspended for games definitely affects our preparation," Brophy said. "I don't think it's going to be hard to turn it around. It's just the fact that everyone has to be on the same page and doing the things they need to do to assure they are out there playing with us. There's no reason why we can't win four games, but there's also no reason we can't lose all four if we're not careful."

The Bulldogs held a team meeting Tuesday to address what has happened before and what lies ahead.

"We talked about goals this season and our goals beyond this season," Mercer said. "Realistically, it's going to be very hard for us to get into the NCAA Tournament but we just want to take it one game at a time."

Georgia veterans also tried to illustrate to the team's freshmen how their actions now affect not just this season but all those to come.

"Basically, the biggest thing was this team is going to be together for the next two or three years," Brophy said. "Things that we're doing wrong now are not only affecting this game but the next game after that and for years to come. Coach is saying if you're not going to do the right things now, what's going to make you do them in the future."

Candidly, Felton has concerns about this young group handling the end of the season in the right way, and youth is not the only reason he has doubts.

"Character and values speak to (that) also," he said. "We certainly are young and not very smart, young and naive. We certainly need to build our inner character. I've never had a group so young and just so naïve to everything. It's a new experience."

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