After Finals Dawgs Try to Make Step Forward

ATHENS – There's progress, center Albert Jackson said, even if it's not entirely evident in the box score.

A year ago, hope was fleeting at Georgia, and the future looked as bleak as the gory present did. This year, things are better, even if the Bulldogs' 4-4 record isn't.

The fundamentals have improved, the grades in the classroom are at a high point and the unity in the locker room is night and day compared to a year ago. Progress is being made.

"That foundation wasn't there before," said Jackson, Georgia's only senior to have spent the past four seasons on scholarship with the Bulldogs. "It's been four years, and I can't say that foundation was there. To turn into a winning program, you have to have that foundation, and I feel like it's being laid – almost completely laid – now. Now it's our job as players to build on it."

Georgia gets another big chance to do just that today when it takes on Illinois (8-2) in Gwinnett, one of the Bulldogs' final non-conference games and yet another tough opponent on a big stage.

"Playing a team like Illinois or St. John's in a big venue like Madison Square Garden, that's definitely big for us players," said point guard Dustin Ware. "These are the things we dream about when we come here, being on the big stages and beating big teams."

Ware and his teammates are getting some play on the big stage, including last week's game against the Red Storm in New York, part of the SEC-Big East challenge. But it's winning those games that remains an unattained goal.

Virginia Tech beat the Bulldogs by 12 on Dec. 6 – Georgia's first game against a BCS-conference opponent – and while the Red Storm struggled against the Bulldogs early in Madison Square Garden, things fell apart in the end.

Georgia went to the half trailing St. John's by just three, but a second-half slump left the Bulldogs trailing by 14 with just 5:23 to play. The game helped illustrate some of Georgia's steps forward, but it was also a study in where the team is still lacking.

"The biggest thing would be to just see some consistency across the board," Ware said. "We'll play well in spurts, and then we won't. To be a great team, you have to be consistent and do those things on a night-in, night-out basis."

That's the message head coach Mark Fox has been preaching for the past week, and he's hoping his efforts will have an effect against Illinois.

"In New York, we played well for a half, but we didn't sustain it," Fox said. "That's progress that we were able to start the game well, but we have to be more complete than we are right now, and that's the battle forward."

It's a battle that Jackson is happy to undertake, because despite all the progress in the classroom, the locker room and the practice courts, it's those battles during the games he wants to start winning.

Sure, Georgia is making progress. But that only takes the Bulldogs so far, Jackson said. At some point, they need to let the rest of the world see the steps forward the players have been so enthusiastic about for the past few weeks.

"We have a lot more big stages to compete and show that change," Jackson said. "I want to show that progress on a big stage. I want everybody to see the progress. You get tired of seeing it yourself and your team seeing it. You want everybody else to see so all the naysayers can say, ‘Oh, all that stuff they were talking about really is true.'"

Dawg Post Top Stories