Georgia basketball’s Mike White finally has ‘a good day’ for program

Bulldogs survive another ragged finish
Mike White's Georgia team is 16-14. AP file photo

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Mike White's Georgia team is 16-14. AP file photo

ATHENS — Mike White insists his Georgia Bulldogs are better in Year 2 even if the record looks like Year 1. The numbers and my eyes both confirm that he’s right. White’s players note that they’ve been in every game. That’s true, too, save for a few lopsided losses to the SEC’s best teams and Saturday’s second-half surrender against Texas A&M.

None of that changes the reality that UGA mean’s basketball is near the bottom of the league. Ultimately, only results matter. The Bulldogs finally got a good one on Tuesday at Stegman Coliseum. They stopped the bleeding with a 69-66 victory over Ole Miss.

“Our program had a good day,” White said.

The Bulldogs haven’t had many of those in White’s two seasons as coach. They nearly ruined this one with another ragged finish.

Georgia led 65-58 with less than a minute to play. A flagrant foul by UGA led to two free throws for Ole Miss, followed by Jaylen Murray’s 3-pointer. Suddenly, the Rebels trailed by just two points with 49 seconds left.

The Bulldogs had lost seven of 11 games with a one-possession score in the final 90 seconds. They were threatening to do it again. Georgia won this one when Russel Tchewa scored a layup on a strong move and the Rebels couldn’t convert three shots on their next possession.

The Bulldogs avoided the collapse and ended a three-game losing streak.

“We’re learning how to win and we’re learning how to make those strides,” Georgia guard Noah Thomasson said. “We’ve got to keep doing those things especially come postseason play because if we want to have some momentum and try to make a run, wins like these are going to be huge.”

Ole Miss (20-10, 7-10 SEC) came to town needing to avoid a bad loss on its NCAA tournament resume. The Bulldogs (16-14, 6-11) needed to win just to remind everyone (maybe themselves included) that they could still do it. Georgia had just one victory in the last 10 games, and that came against last-place Vanderbilt.

White wondered about his team’s fight after the loss to Texas A&M.

“I would have been surprised if we didn’t play hard tonight, and we did,” White said.

The Bulldogs gained a 39-30 edge in rebounds against Ole Miss while chasing missed shots with desire. That was a good sign after Texas A&M bullied them on the boards. Georgia missed 31 of 41 3-point attempts against A&M. The Bulldogs shot even worse against Ole Miss (4 for 21 on 3′s) but earned 17 free throws and made 15 while scoring 36 points in the paint.

“Quality SEC win after going 4 of 21 from three,” White said. “You can win games like that. We haven’t won a lot of games like that especially against the Power 5 teams, high major opponents. To win it in that fashion is a really good teaching moment for our guys and our program.”

It took a while for the Bulldogs to get going. They had nine turnovers in the first half. Seven of those were unforced, by my count, including giveaways on three straight possessions. Those sloppy plays prevented the Bulldogs from building much of a lead even though their defense was sharp.

You sensed that would change if Georgia put together a stretch of focused effort. That finally happened during a 15-6 run that turned Georgia’s one-point deficit into a 55-47 lead. The Bulldogs led 65-54 with 2:45 to play. They kept grinding out good defense and survived the final minute.

Georgia is playing out the last days of a disappointing season, but this was a significant victory. That’s not just because it was UGA’s first home victory since Jan. 24. The Bulldogs were facing the possibility of losing six straight games to close the season.

They are at No. 16 Auburn on Saturday. The Tigers won 97-76 here on Feb. 24. Then comes the SEC tournament in Nashville. Georgia likely will be one of the bottom four teams playing on the first day.

Maybe the Bulldogs can build on finishing off Ole Miss with a scrappy effort.

“Absolutely, man,” Georgia forward Dylan James said. “That’s exactly what we were looking for was that little boost to get us going, to get us some momentum. Now that we have that, we’re really excited going into the next few games.”

White could use a strong finish to the season. Last season Georgia finished 16-15, 6-12 in the SEC. The Bulldogs will end up with the same SEC record this season unless they upset Auburn. Meanwhile, Florida is on the come two years after White left Gainesville.

Todd Golden’s Gators are 21-9 overall and 11-6 in the SEC. Florida couldn’t do better than nine SEC wins during White’s final two seasons. Florida swept Georgia this season. The Gators boosted their NCAA resume with a home victory over No. 16 Alabama on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are just trying to salvage a winning season.

“We’re building,” White said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we are getting it done. We are better than we were a year ago. No doubt in my mind we’ll take another jump next year.”

We’ll see if he’s right. For now, the Bulldogs are just happy to stop the bleeding.