Dawgs need wins for NIT

ATHENS – As rematches go, it's not Ali-Frazier. It's not even Spinks-Holmes, really.

As Georgia coach Dennis Felton puts it, "It is what it is. We finished where we finished."

That would be sixth, or dead last, in the SEC's Eastern Division. That leaves the Bulldogs (15-14, 5-11 SEC) playing Western Division No. 3 seed Arkansas today in a game scheduled to tip off at 9:45 p.m. in the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville, Tenn. The Razorbacks (21-8, 10-6) are fresh off a 74-57 whipping of Georgia on Sunday in Athens.

"It's important to remember that it's a clean slate, and everybody starts 0-0," guard Jay McAuley said. "We are looking forward to playing Arkansas again. We definitely didn't bring our best effort (last time)."

The Bulldogs haven't seen their best effort in quite a while. They have lost six of their last seven heading into tonight's game, the nightcap of Day 1 of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

"We need to play at a level much closer to the level we have found at some points in this season," Felton said.

Georgia has been so bad that even the previously optimistic Felton isn't encouraged about his team's chance to make the NIT. That second-tier bid became harder to come by this year because of a new rule that guarantees all regular season conference champions a bid if they don't make the NCAA Tournament.

That means several of the NIT's 40 spots will be taken up by champions from leagues like the Big Sky and Atlantic Sun, thus taking spots away from major conference teams.

"I think that makes all the sense in the world," Felton said. "Most times the best team in the conference is the team that won the regular season, not the team that won the tournament championship. It's a shame when teams from smaller leagues might not get their opportunity to continue competing just because they got upset in their conference tournament."

After being at Western Kentucky for five seasons before coming to Athens, Felton is a full-on mid-major sympathizer.

"Certainly, I'm not going to whine about it now," he said. "The tournament should be about bringing the best teams. We need to play as well as we can and win."

To do that, they'll have to be at least 18 points better than they were against a team they had no answer for at all four days ago.

"I really don't have any problem with (the rematch) part of the equation," Felton said. "They are a very, very good team that is playing their best basketball right now. We certainly know that better than anyone."

Georgia's players are trying to remain upbeat despite being so thoroughly in the tank.

"We've proved that we can play with anybody, beating Alabama and Vanderbilt," freshman Mike Mercer said. "It's just all up to every player individually whether we really want it."

Arkansas coach Stan Heath, who is 0-3 in the SEC since taking over in Fayetteville, Ark., also is downplaying the rematch aspect.

"Us winning the game gives us a little momentum, but it's a new game," he said. "I don't think we got their A-game."

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