ATHENS, Ga. - Four straight wins have No. 21 Georgia looking good for the NCAA tournament.
Now comes a two-game test which could reveal how the Bulldogs might stand against the best competition in the NCAA field next month.
In a span of three days, Georgia plays host to No. 2 Kentucky Sunday at 4 p.m. and then will welcome No. 4 Florida to Stegeman Coliseum Tuesday night at 9. Kentucky will bring a 17-game winning streak - the longest in the nation - to Athens Sunday.
A challenge? No doubt.
For Georgia (17-7 overall, 9-4 Southeastern Conference) this also is an opportunity. Georgia, which won at Mississippi, 89-82, Wednesday night, is 11-0 at home and is playing its best basketball of the season.
By pulling off at least a split of the Kentucky and Florida games, Georgia could improve its hopes for a high seed in the NCAA tournament. With a little outside help - say from Auburn, which plays host to Florida Saturday - the Bulldogs also still have a chance to catch the second-place Gators in the SEC East.
Playing two highly ranked teams with only a day to rest also will give Georgia coach Jim Harrick an idea if his veteran team is tough enough for the tournament grind.
"You look at it like a mini-NCAA tournament weekend,'' Harrick said Thursday. " You have about that much time to prepare for each game.''
Even in the NCAA tournament, teams rarely play back-to-back games against top-five opponents, at least before reaching the Final Four.
"I don't know if it's like a first- or second-round (NCAA) game or even the Elite Eight,'' Harrick said. "It might be a semifinal, final type situation.''
With the win over Ole Miss, Georgia has swept its six games against SEC West teams for the first time since divisional play began in the 1991-92 season.
Georgia's SEC record would be good enough for first place in the West, but Florida and especially Kentucky have raised the stakes in the East.
"I would say Kentucky opened our eyes, they set the bar a little higher,'' Harrick said of the Bulldogs' 87-67 loss to the Wildcats at Rupp Arena on Feb. 11.
Hayes, named SEC Player of the Week Monday after scoring a combined total of 49 points in wins over Alabama and South Carolina, made 6 of 10 3-point shots and scored a career-high 32 points against Ole Miss. Williams added 21 points.
Kentucky (23-3 overall, 13-0 SEC) is trying to become the first team in the league to win all its conference games since 1996, when the Wildcats finished 16-0 in the SEC and won the national championship.
Georgia needs only one more win to be assured of at least matching its 10-6 SEC mark of last season, which then was good enough for a first-place tie with Kentucky and Florida in the East.
This year, Georgia already has lost road games at Kentucky and Florida, leaving even more on the line Sunday.
Said Harrick: "It's a big, big game for us.''