Players and coaches have enjoyed the signature wins at home. But those winning feelings haven't equated to long-lasting success. Coach Mark Fox has tried to instill consistency in all walks of Bulldogs basketball life. But without a single win on the road this season, the job is not complete.
"Well overall this program, I don't think, won back-to-back SEC games last year," Fox said. "That's one thing I told our team. I said, ‘we need to do that. You can do it once and eventually you can make it habit. We have to do it the first time.' We're focused on trying to reach that milestone too. There is a lot of things these kids are trying to accomplish and that's one of them."
Georgia beat in-state rival Georgia Tech Jan. 5 and followed with an encouragingly close defeat at Kentucky. Two more snowball-effect road losses later, the Bulldogs upset then-ranked No. 8 Tennessee. The win proved what Georgia was capable of—that it was ready to play a larger role in the ever-evolving conference sitcom.
And then a road trip to Gainesville ended the discussion. An 87-71 downer brought the Bulldogs, along with fans, back down from the stratosphere.
Jump to the present time.
Another Georgia confirmation in Stegeman. Another subsequent road game to verify as an unswerving SEC menace.
"Florida is one of the few games I was disappointed in our team's approach," Fox said. "I think it was a midweek game, like this one will be. I don't know if we'll have a better approach or not, but I do think that we're slowly maturing. We need to mature on the road."
Know this: Georgia players are proud of what they've accomplished thus far. They know they've tallied impressive wins, and been competitive in close defeats. They've heard the Georgia moniker thrown around in the "turnaround" discussions throughout the media.
But they're also not satisfied with being labeled as an easy out when they venture on the road.
"It's the first time since I've been here—I don't even remember —I think we'd only beaten a ranked team once or twice," said senior Albert Jackson. "To beat three in one season is amazing because you can beat one by fluke. But to beat three, I think that kind of sends a statement in a way. It's kind of disappointing to know that we can beat these ranked teams, but then we come to a team that we should win or that's equally matched team, and we haven't been pulling it out."
With the past botched chances still in mind, the routine has been the same at practice this week. The hope is, Fox says, that a positive change in focus and preparation for tonight's game will lead to an initial road success.
"It's kind of just doing the same thing," Jackson said. "I guess just being more prepared, having more energy when you're on the court and all the little things it takes to win. We don't really need to change anything, our routine. We need to do what we do, just better."
So, here Georgia stands: Good enough to topple giants when in familiar territory. And understanding that winning in a hostile environment is the next step in establishing a winning culture.