Georgia shows why we still can’t assume success

These are the games that perpetuate doubt.

These are the forehead-slapping games that follow the listless practices that lead even the head coach to say, “We’ve been smelling ourselves too much.”

That wasn’t Georgia turning a corner with a significant win at Texas A&M on Wednesday night. It turns out that was just Georgia teasing the masses again, then running face-first into a wall Saturday.

The Bulldogs may consider themselves locks for an NCAA tournament bid, but they didn’t look even NIT-worthy. Never mind that a 69-68 loss to Auburn came down to the last shot. When you’re playing a beat-up 3-8 conference team with an RPI of 162 that lost to team (Mississippi State) with an RPI of 186, it shouldn’t come down to the last shot.

Legitimate tournament teams shouldn’t get mulligans like this. Legitimate tournaments certainly lose games in mid-February, but not at home to opponents like this.

Georgia was favored by 11 1/2 points.

When is Georgia ever favored by 11 1/2 points?

“We got exactly what we deserved,” Mark Fox said.

The Dogs made only one of their first eight shots, missing five layups and a dunk. They shot 30.4 percent (9-for-26) in the first half, but trailed Auburn only 29-28 because, well, it was Auburn. The Tigers are a depleted team that recently lost their starting point guard to shoulder surgery. They had lost six of their past seven. They’re at the relative bottom, a situation that manages to drive coaches like Bruce Pearl even more crazy than usual.

It looked in the second half like Georgia might escape with a win. The turnovers went down, the shooting picked up. The Bulldogs built a nine-point lead (57-48) with five minutes left. But they fizzled on defense. Auburn, a 41-percent shooting team — second worst in the SEC to Missouri’s 40.6 percent — shot 56.5 percent (13 for 23) in the second half. The Dogs’ lead fizzled to seven, then five, then three.

Consecutive jumpers by K.T. Harrell (21 points), K.C. Ross-Miller (17) and Harrell again, wrapped around Georgia misses, put the Tigers ahead 65-63 with 59 seconds left.

The Dogs never led again. Auburn afforded the home team one more chance to faceplant when Ross-Miller threw an in-bounds pass the length of the court and out of bounds with 1.8 seconds left. But then Kenny Gaines inbounded a pass to Nemanja Djurisic, who had a chance to win it, but air-balled his 3-point attempt.

Again, it should not have come down to that.

Fox saw this coming. He said he warned his players at the shoot-around that their focus has not been right for a while.

“What I told them was our mental approach has to be determined,” he said. “We’ve got to earn victory. We talked about being mentally ready to go. Too many people are telling us how good we are. We haven’t accomplished anything.”

He said he “didn’t like our determination. I didn’t like it all week, to be honest with you.”

Since the win at Texas A&M?

“I didn’t like it at A&M. We were fortunate to win there because we weren’t saddled up and ready to roll there, either.”

Maybe not, but they won. There was reason to believe Fox was building something special in Athens and certainly something unique in the state of Georgia: a solid college basketball program. Fans had started to buy-in. The Stegosaurus was filled again, with most fans wearing red. Their was actual atmosphere in an arena that has hosted far more success stories in women’s gymnastics and women’s basketball than men’s hoops.

The 62-53 victory at A&M had elevated the Bulldogs to an RPI of 22nd in the nation — second-best among SEC schools behind only mighty Kentucky. This was rarefied air for Georgia — and an elevation that we must now wonder if the Dogs will ever ascend to again this season.

One loss won’t drop them to 57th. But Saturday’s game illustrated how bad Georgia can be. And if the Dogs wind up in the NCAA tournament as a No. 10 or 12 seed instead of as a No. 7 or 8, remember this game. It was easily their worst loss of the season, and it came with only six games left before the SEC tournament.

Assume nothing now, if you made the mistake of assuming anything before.