Next game is only future concerning Georgia’s Mike White

Georgia coach Mike White directs the team against LSU during an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate via AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia coach Mike White directs the team against LSU during an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate via AP)

ATHENS – The Mike White Rebuilding Project at Georgia has run into a major delay here at the end of Year 2.

The Bulldogs (15-14, 5-11 SEC) encountered another setback this past Saturday when they fell meekly to Texas A&M 70-56 at Stegeman Coliseum. There were a number of red flags that popped up in the course of Georgia dropping its fifth straight home game and ninth of 10 dating back to late January, but the biggest one was the perception of quitting.

Despite enduring a horrific shooting night, the Bulldogs still were down only four points with a little over six minutes remaining. Then they were outscored 10-0 in the final 6:18.

The ability to finish strong has been an issue all season. Eleven of Georgia’s 29 games have been one-possession contests in the final 90 seconds. It is 4-7 in those games.

“We’ve had these struggles all year,” said White, in his second season since leaving Florida. “We’re going to continue to preach the same messages, maybe in different ways. But we’ll keep swinging away at this thing. Tuesday night’s another opportunity.”

Ole Miss – White’s alma mater -- comes to town for the Bulldogs’ final regular-season home game Tuesday at Stegeman Coliseum (7 p.m.). The Rebels (20-9, 7-9) arrive with a lot on the line. They’d lost six of seven before snapping a three-game skid against winless-in-the-SEC Missouri on Saturday. Wins over Georgia and at home against A&M Saturday would get them to .500 and position them for postseason possibilities.

Conversely, the Bulldogs’ bid is all but done. What seemed out of the question when Georgia was sitting at 14-5 (4-2) after a 68-66 win over LSU on Jan. 24 – not improving in last year’s 16-16 season -- is suddenly very much in play.

After Ole Miss, a road trip to No. 13 Auburn awaits two weeks after the Tigers (22-7, 11-5) handed the Bulldogs their worst home loss of the season (97-76). Losses in both games would send Georgia to the SEC Tournament needing a win just to match last year’s 16-16 record. At the moment, Georgia is 11th in the 14-team conference and virtually assured playing the late Wednesday night game against last-place Missouri in next week’s conference tourney in Nashville.

Regardless of how the rest of the games play out, the Bulldogs insist they’re a better team and progress has been made.

“Don’t let the record fool you,” said guard Noah Thomasson, Georgia’s leading scorer with 12.8 ppg. “I mean, we’ve been in every single game this season, and they’ll continue to grow in years to come.”

“I think they’re a good coaching staff. I think they do a good job of really, you know, putting confidence in players to play offensively and defend. Just trust them and see what happens. I think big things are coming to Athens.”

That might be more believable if Thomasson and others were coming back next year. The problem is, Thomasson is a graduate transfer and one of at least six players the Bulldogs are expected to lose due to exhausted eligibility. Meanwhile, in the age of the transfer portal, there are no guarantees that the those with eligibility remaining will choose to use it at UGA.

There are several White undoubtedly will want to retain. Point guard Silas Demary Jr. was the only freshman in the SEC to start every game of the season until he deferred his spot to Justin Hill to start on Senior Day this past Saturday. The 6-foot-5 playmaker from Raleigh is one of only six freshmen in the conference averaging double figures in SEC play (10.6 ppg) and also ranks ninth in the league leaders in steals (1.52 pg).

Blue Cain, another 6-5 guard, joins Demary as one of only seven SEC freshmen logging 20 minutes or more per game. Cain’s up to 7.0 points per game and recently moved into the starting lineup. Fellow freshman Dylan James, a 6-9 forward, has recently experienced an uptick in playing time, averaging 13.4 minutes over the last seven games. Along with redshirted guard Mari Jordan, the foursome were all Top 100-rated recruits when they signed in the Class of 2023, White’s first full recruiting class.

There have been other positives. The Bulldogs are one of just two SEC teams whose scoring average has gone up in conference play. Overall, Georgia’s averaging 75.1 points a game, up significantly over last season (68.5).

White is not ready to talk about the future beyond Tuesday night. He’s too busy trying to fix the problems he has right now.

Meanwhile, playing Ole Miss will always be of special significance to White and his family. White was a four-year starter guard at guard for the Rebels from 1995-99. His wife, the former Kira Zschau, was an All-SEC volleyball player for Ole Miss. They have five children.

As for last Saturday’s loss to A&M, two stats stood out like a flashing traffic light. Georgia had attempted 41 3-pointers (making only 10) and was out-rebounded 27-13 in the second half.

White was more concerned about the latter than the former.

“As I told our guys, we’re going to hit adversity against Ole Miss,” White said. “Shots aren’t always going to fall. So, what are we going to do?”