Bulldogs seek more good vibes at Vanderbilt

Georgia basketball player Anthony Edwards (5) during a game against Auburn at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Wed., Feb. 19, 2020. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Caption
Georgia basketball player Anthony Edwards (5) during a game against Auburn at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Wed., Feb. 19, 2020. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

Credit: Anthony Walsh

Credit: Anthony Walsh

At the least, Georgia has six games remaining in the 2019-20 basketball season. At best, it’ll get a few more than that.

For that best-case scenario to happen, the Bulldogs will need to go on a little tear about now. But they’ll settle for one win Saturday, at Vanderbilt (6 p.m., SEC Network).

That would mean Georgia has done something it hasn’t since Jan. 4, which is win two games in a row.

“We’re coming off an outstanding victory, and that certainly helps,” coach Tom Crean said before the Bulldogs left for Nashville on Friday. “It helps everybody. It helps everybody’s frame of mind. Now we have to make sure we build on that and lock into this game.”

As it stands, Georgia (13-13, 3-10 SEC) and the Commodores (9-17, 1-12) are the bottom two in the SEC. As it stands now, the Bulldogs and Vandy both will be competing in the dreaded “play-in games” among the bottom four seeds March 11 in the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

The Bulldogs would like nothing more than to play their way out of that scenario. They are coming off of a resounding 65-55 upset of then-No. 13 Auburn on Wednesday. That represented the first time since the 2003-04 the Bulldogs have multiple top-15 victories (they also beat then-No. 10, now unranked Memphis on the road).

Meanwhile, Vandy pushed Tennessee to the brink in Knoxville before losing 65-61 on Tuesday. Its only conference win this came on the road against LSU, which heading into this weekend remains in contention for the regular-season championship.

So, in their own ways, both Georgia and Vandy will be playing as desperate teams.

“We’re just telling everybody to stick with us,” Bulldogs freshman Anthony Edwards said.

Georgia fans definitely did for Wednesday’s scintillating win over Auburn. In that game, the Bulldogs simply closed out a game it led most of the time, something it so often failed to do at other times this season.

They can point to at least five other games in which they played their way to big leads only to watch them whittled away to nothing. Holding up against an Auburn team with a lot to lose represented significant progress.

“Having that experience, losing those (other) leads, helped us,” freshman point guard Sahvir Wheeler said. “We’re experienced now and figuring that out.”

Said Crean: “It was not only a great victory against an outstanding team, but it was the way that we won. We were able to grow up inside of the game and find a way to win it, and that was huge."

It’s about this time that the “what ifs” start creeping in. Georgia could be in an entirely different situation if it had just taken care of business in games in which it had substantial leads. Lest we forget, the Bulldogs blew 22- and 20-point second-half leads on the road at Florida and Missouri, respectively. They also posted significant leads in losses to Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M, only to lose in the end.

Crean said one of his assistants actually broke it all down the other day, how much time the Bulldogs have spent with the lead against SEC opponents and how often they’ve been in position to come away with wins instead of losses

Alas, he shared that data neither with the team nor the media.

“I listened,” Crean said. “But it's ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda.’ You just have to try to figure out how you’re going to be better the next time with it. … You just try to apply what you’ve learned to the practices.”

As former Super Bowl coach Bill Parcells famously said, “You are what your record says you are.”

The Bulldogs would love to play their way out of that scenario. Understandably, though, they’re not thinking past Saturday’s trip to the Music City.

But the team vibe is definitely better coming off a win.

“It’s now a, ‘been there done that’ (mentality),” Crean said. “They don’t have that self-doubt or critic that creeps back into their head with some of the other tough games that we had. This is the most fresh thing. … Now, the key is to be able to sustain it and get better, and that’s where the maturity part of it comes in.”

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