"We can play with just about anybody in our conference," freshman forward Trey Thompkins said. "We can beat just about anybody in our conference. But it's on us to take care of what we have to do in order to do that."
Losses to Missouri, Georgia Tech and Tennessee during the past week have underscored the level of talent on the Bulldogs' roster. They held commanding leads in the second half in the latter two contests and played competitive ball against strong competition.
At crunch time, however, Georgia's youth was evident. Turnovers, bad shot selection and a lack of aggression on the boards undermined early success.
After each game, the Bulldogs (9-7, 0-1 SEC) were quick to chalk up the losses as lessons learned – which has its value for a team that has given a big chunk of playing time to freshmen and sophomores. But as the Bulldogs delve deeper into their SEC schedule, point guard Dustin Ware said it's time for them to start turning those learning experiences into wins.
"We're definitely looking to finish a game," Ware said. "We've kind of lost the last three in the same way, just a few breakdowns here and there. It's led to us losing the lead and eventually losing the game."
Against Missouri, it was turnovers. While the Bulldogs held a lead as late as the 12:17 mark in the second half, 23 give aways doomed them against the Tigers.
At Georgia Tech, Georgia held a commanding 13-point lead early in the second half and was up by a point with 2:20 left to play, but finished the game with another 19 turnovers, allowed the Yellow Jackets a 23-13 advantage on the offensive boards and went nearly 10 minutes without a field goal down the stretch. The result was a crushing 67-62 loss for Georgia.
In their conference opener last Saturday, the Bulldogs dominated the Tennessee – the SEC's highest-ranked team – in the early part of the second half, erasing a 12-point deficit to take control of the game with 12:30 to play. Again, however, Georgia collapsed down the stretch with Ricky McPhee's 3-pointer in the final seconds its only field goal of the final 8:10 of the game.
"It could be inexperience when it comes to that because most of the upper-classmen, we're going to stay level headed because we've been in this situation way too many times," senior guard Corey Butler said. "But the younger guys, we have a very young team, but from top to bottom, we just have to finish the game and not realize that the pressure is on, even though it is."
While the Bulldogs struggled to hit baskets for long stretches during all three games, the more troubling problem was a lack of aggressiveness on the defensive end of the court – a hallmark of Dennis Felton's squad despite its youth.
Against Tennessee, Georgia was dominated on the glass down the stretch, the key to the Volunteers' comeback.
"We didn't compete at all in the last two or three minutes on the glass," senior Terrance Woodbury said.
The problem, Thompkins said, was that Georgia failed to finish the job once it earned a commanding lead. The Bulldogs let up, and Tennessee worked harder – a problem he said can't reoccur tonight against Vanderbilt (11-4, 0-1).
"I think it's starting to sink in now," Thompkins said. "I think this game we'll prove we're ready to play 40 minutes, and not 32."
Butler said his team remains optimistic despite learning several difficult lessons in the past three games. The key, however, is for Georgia to take what they've learned and execute on the court – something Butler hopes will begin against the Commodores tonight.
"It gets frustrating when you lose, because we're all very competitive," Butler said. "But it's a long season, it's a marathon, we have 15 more games and we'll be able to finish."