"Whoever you play it was going to be a difficult game," said Stansbury said, prior to a quick MSU practice in the venue. "No question, Georgia is a very good basketball team. They're huge on the inside, they've got really good, physical guards."
All of which was on display Saturday afternoon as the UG Dogs battled the heavily-favored Wildcats for the full 40 minutes. And it took the complete clock to finish this won, with guard Zac Swansey nailing a frantic three-pointer at 1.2 seconds to put his team in front 57-56. Kentucky had taken the lead seven ticks before on a putback basket, but Swansey took the ball from baseline-to-arc and dropped the improbable turnaround through.
Kentucky threw away the long inbounds pass and fouled Georgia to force free throws at 1.2. UG also got to shoot added technicals tosses as UK blocked the second normal free toss to prevent a miss that would have run out the clock. It was all for nought as the local Dogs celebrated in front of, maybe, 100 fans in their arch-rival's arena. Georgia is now 15-16 and looking to continue an all-or-nothing run in the re-sited SEC Tournament, which they must win to play post-season.
For their part the MSU Bulldogs know their name will be called tomorrow evening by the NCAA selectors. "We're playing for seeding now," Stansbury said. And a win this evening against a UG team playing a second time in eight hours will boost the Bulldog stock further. Stansbury even thinks a five-seeding is possible with one more win, regardless what happens in Sunday's finals. That game, too, will be played on the Georgia Tech campus where the SEC moved the event when the Georgia Dome was damaged by what is now known to have been a Friday evening tornado. A storm that struck while the Bulldogs were beating Alabama in overtime, too.
Stansbury left his team at the hotel while he watched today's game, but as this is written the Bulldogs have reported for a quick workout. "We've got a shootaround, then we'll go over the scouting report and get ready. It's not much time." Then again, the shorter the time State has to wait might work out better considering the roller-coaster ride of the last 18 hours. The coach can only hope the Bulldogs don't bring any of that baggage into the semifinals game.
"We've got to be able to re-focus and put all that stuff behind that's gone on since our game, we can't let that be a distraction. We've got to come out here tonight and make sure we turn all that energy to things we can control between these lines. Because it's going to take one of those games to beat a very inspired Georgia team."
Inspired is putting it lightly. Georgia only got here by defeating Ole Miss in overtime Thursday, the game ending around 11:00 local time with center Dave Bliss banking in a buzzer- and Rebel-beating basket. So the local Dogs have momentum and emotion on their side. "And they're good," Stansbury said. "They're a very physical team, they've got everybody healthy now, they match up well with us because they've got the size and numbers on the inside."
This is also the SEC foe State is least-familiar with since the teams played way back on January 12, in Starkville. The MSU Dogs won that one 60-49, though neither side was full-strength at the time with State All-SEC forward Charles Rhodes gimpy and guard Ben Hansbrough breaking a finger in the second minute. Then again, maybe it's good the game was so long ago and MSU can't rely entirely on how that one played out, perhaps helping Stansbury's team re-focus.
Besides their inspiration, Georgia has a couple of other advantages in this odd home-away-from-home. When deciding to move the tournament across town, to a venue less than half the size of the Georgia Dome's basketball seating, the SEC opted to practically eliminate any crowd. Only those with school-issued tickets, along with working media and travel party, are to be allowed admission. Kentucky obviously used connections and experience working road sites to obtain as many ducats as available from schools not playing any more, with maybe 1,000 Wildcat folk in the stands.
But few of them will stay around now. Nor is Georgia likely to bring in more than the handful of friends and family that watched them win this afternoon. Yet this isn't a disadvantage in Stansbury's mind. "No question they're used to playing in emptier gyms," he said, noting UG's poor attendance in Athens. "So they're very comfortable with the environment. And they play Georgia Tech here, so they've got some plusses. But we can't let those things be distractions for us, we have to control what we can control."
Of course nobody can control the weather—and more storms were coming to Atlanta today, which factored into the decision not to attempt a return to the damaged Dome. Stansbury said the SEC "absolutely" did the best that could be done under the unprecedented circumstances. Sunday's finals will now be at 3:30et with ESPN2 telecast.
"They found a way to keep playing this tournament, to allow the kids to compete for a championship. Is it ideal, no. Is it ideal for the fans, absolutely not. But with the situation what it is they've done a great job getting it set up so quick and ready to go."
And Stansbury hopes his Bulldogs are ready to go tonight against their canine counterparts. Though, he has some small hopes that a few more MSU faithful might find a way into the Coliseum. "Tell them all to sneak in the back door!" he said, before heading to practice.