Georgia drills Arkansas — and could it happen again?

A desperation three-point shot by Ricky McPhee just before halftime gave Georgia a 40-32 lead over Arkansas, and the Bulldogs never looked back. (AP photo)

Ricky McPhee's three-point shot just before halftime gave the Bulldogs a 40-32 lead, and they never looked back. (AP photo)

NASHVILLE – Playing the 9:45 p.m. game on the opening night of a conference tournament doesn’t scream main event. It’s a relative play-in game involving a last-place team.

Funny. Georgia didn’t look the part Thursday night.

The Bulldogs, showing their days as a sixth-seed might be over after this season, upset Arkansas, 77-64, to open SEC tournament play.

Could it happen again?

Maybe it’s a little early to project a repeat of the miracle tournament run of two years ago. But given the Bulldogs’ second-round game Friday night is against Vanderbilt — a team they’ve already beaten once this season and barely lost the rematch to, 96-94, in overtime — don’t go anywhere.

This team plays hard. This team plays smart. This team goes through lapses now and then, largely because it is thin on talent. But then it seems to toughen up when games get tight.

It happened against Arkansas. The Razorbacks trimmed an 11-point Georgia lead to 64-59 with five and a half minutes left. Then the Dogs pulled away. They outscored Arkansas 13-5 the rest of the game. When Dustin Ware hit a three-point shot with a minute left to make it 77-61, the Georgia bench erupted.

“What I told our guys was that determination was a big factor tonight,” Fox said. “We talked at the half about how, OK, we’re ahead, but we were ahead the first time we played them [and lost]. We’re going to see how much we’ve grown up the last five weeks. We knew they would make plays. We knew they would make a run. But we talked this morning about being mature enough to play through success and adversity, and we were determined enough to do so.”

Trey Thompkins took charge inside again, finishing with 23 points and 14 rebounds. (AP photo)

Forward Trey Thompkins took charge inside again, finishing with 23 points, 14 rebounds and six assists. (AP photo)

Travis Leslie finished with 21 points. Trey Thompkins had 23 points and 14 rebounds. Georgia held Arkansas to 38.8 percent shooting and outrebounded the Razorbacks, 45-28.

Second-chance points: Georgia 19, Arkansas 9. That’s about effort.

Last week, Fox grumbled. Georgia lost at LSU to a team that had won only one of its previous 15 conference games. It was the first dreadful performance by the team since a 19-point loss at Auburn Feb. 10, the first time since then that Fox would use the words, “very disappointing.”

This week, he was worried again. So many media members — and even players on other teams — were referencing the Dogs’ conference tournament championship in 2008. That can distract a bunch.

“There has been so much talk about it,” Fox said. “But I told them: We have to keep our feet into today. If we do that, tomorrow will take care of itself. One thing I liked is we handled the long day well. We didn’t seem too antsy to get to the gym. We were pretty composed.”

There was a strong belief entering the week that, regardless of how Georgia did this week, Fox had moved the program forward. He managed to get another coach’s recruits to buy into his system. He coached his team to some upsets, despite a largely pedestrian roster, heavily dependent on two players (Thompkins and Leslie).

Perhaps most remarkable of all, he got students on campus in Athens to think about something other than recruiting and spring football. The Dogs even sold out a few games in Stegeman Coliseum. Go figure.

As athletic director Damon Evans, who hired Fox, put it: “I’m excited because there’s some excitement around the program. People have responded to what coach Fox is doing.”

Playing in the 9:45 p.m. game on the first day of a conference tournament generally is not a positive indication of a program’s direction.

First- and second-place finishers are given the first day off.

Last place finishers are given the night shift.

But going into the Arkansas game, you never would have known the Bulldogs were 5-11 in the conference. They were being referenced during the week as a program on the rise, and as a team that nobody wanted to face in this tournament.

There also was this headline in Nashville’s newspaper, The Tennessean: “Commodores want Hogs, not ‘Dogs.” The reference: to potential second-round opponent Vanderbilt preferring to play Arkansas. Georgia gave Vandy fits during the season.

“We haven’t played our best basketball against Georgia,” Vanderbilt center A.J. Ogilvy. “That will be weighing on our minds.”

Georgia basketball? Weighing on somebody’s mind? Imagine that.

The development of Thompkins and Leslie in their sophomore seasons is a testament to Fox’s coaching. Earlier this week, Thompkins was announced as a unanimous selection on the All-SEC first team, an honor no Georgia player has received since Jarvis Hayes in 2003.

Odds are that both players will bypass the NBA draft and return to Athens for another season.

That would be huge for Fox and the program. And there is no reason to believe the the Dogs will be in the 9:45 p.m. game next season.

Previous posts

We’re live from Nashville: Is it miracle time for Georgia?

Welcome to Nash-Tucky (and the T-shirt of the decade)

Trey Thompkins will be an early NBA draft pick (but likely in 2011)

Bruce Pearl heaps praise on Dogs, Fox (and then quickly stops)

About Arkansas, and did Calipari get jobbed for SEC coach of the year?

How big a threat is Georgia in this tournament?

Who’s more likely to win a conference tournament game, Tech or Georgia?

FLASHBACK: Georgia upsets Tennessee

FLASHBACK: Mark Fox’s early reality check as coach

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and on Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

81 comments Add your comment

Cuz

March 12th, 2010
12:19 am

first game column

todd grantham

March 12th, 2010
12:20 am

Jeffrey, I was hoping you didnt have a heart attack.

bg3003

March 12th, 2010
12:22 am

whew! what a game! trey, and travis combining to make 43 points!! what more can you ask for in a uga game!!!

Cuz

March 12th, 2010
12:26 am

Just two in a row there bg

Cuz

March 12th, 2010
12:28 am

Great game Dawgs, some kinda fun to watch. Time for bed.

FullMetalJacket

March 12th, 2010
12:28 am

I’m not surprised that a Dawg drilled a Pig. I’m just surprised it made the AJC.

MontyP

March 12th, 2010
12:29 am

The threat of McPhee from the outside really helps open it up for Leslie inside and to some extent Trey. Trey really doesn’t need much help. How many triple and quadruple teams did Arkansas throw at Trey. You just have to love the story of McPhee. Red and Black through and through. You have to wonder how Felton kept the three best players on this team on the bench so much last year. Ware is coming on. Add Robinson the mix next year plus the players that developed off of the bench this year things are looking good. Beat Vandy! Go Dawgs!

brooks

March 12th, 2010
12:30 am

Watch out for the dawgs. Don’t let the record fool you. Vandy is not sleeping well. Go dawgs.

FullMetalJacket

March 12th, 2010
12:30 am

Georgia’ Mark Fox does make Tech’s Paul Hewitt look like an alcoholic clown who stopped by the game on his way to a kid’s birthday party, but then everybody does.

FullMetalJacket

March 12th, 2010
12:31 am

If Vandy is not sleeping well it is because they are afraid one of you dawgs will break into their room and drill them, having mistaken them for another pig.

FullMetalJacket

March 12th, 2010
12:32 am

So, UGA is the toothless hillbilly and Vandy is Ned Beatty in “Deliverance”?

Ted Striker

March 12th, 2010
12:34 am

Good column. Sleep in tomorrow morning.

Herschel Talker

March 12th, 2010
12:57 am

FullMetalJacket at 12:30-

Well said

Herschel Talker

March 12th, 2010
1:02 am

One word: Kentucky. They’re too strong to blow it against a scrappy, but clearly less talented UGA squad. But things are looking bright for the future. Far better than things with the Nerds in Atlanta.

Jeff Schultz

March 12th, 2010
1:19 am

Folks — updated the column with some Mark Fox quotes. Got some good stuff also from Trey Thompkins that I’ll use in a blog tomorrow.

Brentwood Dawg

March 12th, 2010
1:31 am

Great Win for the Dogs tonight. Scored 2 tix 13 rows from the court for $30. They were selling singles on the street for $5. Now I’m sure you won’t find that tomorrow but tonight was a buyer’s market. I like our chances against Vandy tomorrow. Trey played great.

GT IS NOW A 6TH RATE HIGH SCHOOL TEAM

March 12th, 2010
1:32 am

GT IS NOW A 6TH RATE HIGH SCHOOL TEAM

March 12th, 2010
1:35 am

THE DAWGS MAINTAINED GOOD ENERGY TO THE END OF THIS GAME.

Matt the Brave

March 12th, 2010
2:08 am

Don’t know if we’ll be able to hold with the big boys, but we might make some noise. Wonder if we’d make the NIT with a .500 record? We’d have to beat two more teams, three more to guarantee that .500 record…

EVEN TOUGH

March 12th, 2010
5:10 am

No chance, how can a basketball team that defide all odds just two years ago, a school whose football team is spirally downwards (even though CFN and the others say that the statistics say that GEORGIA FOOOTBALL is a top ten program, no matter how you slice it!)? How can a team supported only by people who live in trailers, have mullets (the list goes on) win at anything. Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and gt have such well-bread and educated fans who live on this blog.

BIRDDAWGONE GO DAWGS! (just for the record, I always think UGA has a chance!)

heywood jablomey

March 12th, 2010
6:24 am

woke up to awesome news this am.

GO DAWGS!

hopefully ill find tonites victory on the tv somewhere!

F-105 Thunderchief

March 12th, 2010
6:58 am

Man, if they could just upset Vandy, that’d make the season. Anything after that, even a loss, would be gravy.

Speaking of food, please don’t forget to bring me back some hot chicken from Prince’s. It’s out Dickerson Pike, ask anybody local and they can give you directions.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72xXxV9qIPg

Bob Didier caught here

March 12th, 2010
7:37 am

Way to Go Coach Fox! The Dawgs came on like gangbusters in the second half! We just got to find a way from Albert Jackson fouling out again to give us a chance against Vandy!

Clay

March 12th, 2010
7:40 am

Nice read, Shultzie. You’re certainly no UGA homer, but it shows that Fox has impressed you this season. The Dawgs need a couple more wins in the tournament to “get the ball rolling” (so to speak) on recruiting. We’ve already seen that Fox is a great sideline coach. Time will tell if he can get the players to Athens …

Floundering Fox Hounds Batman!

March 12th, 2010
7:55 am

Sure UGA can get drilled again just like the baseball team is getting drilled by everyone.

J dubb

March 12th, 2010
8:12 am

Trey is a BEAST! Leslie was 50%? from the foul line? He seemed to hesitate alot under the basket or in the paint. Price was getting stuffed alot too. But i watched the whole game and I odnt even like basketball that much. Is Coach Fox THAT good, or was Coach Fleton THAT BAD? I hope its the former – and I could definitely see us upsetting Vandy also – then we probably run out of gas.
I am so pumped for UGA basketball to be above average again. Just the thought of us being able to beat anybody next year in the Steg would be cool.
GO DAWGS!!

J dubb

March 12th, 2010
8:13 am

DOH! typos….its still early.

Leedawg

March 12th, 2010
8:24 am

Being realistic, we’re not beating Kentucky in this tourney, but man it feels good to be relevant again in hoops. Haven’t been this jazzed about Bulldawg basketball since the Jarvis and Jonas days. Love the effort, love the heart, love the Coach. With Kentucky (presumably) losing much of its team to the NBA, who says we can’t compete for the East next year???

CW

March 12th, 2010
8:27 am

To Fullmetalmaggot, 73-66. suck it

icedawg

March 12th, 2010
8:30 am

Perhaps the Dawgs will get a bit more attention from prospective players. The players and coaches have done a great job turning it around this year. On any given night they can compete, a far cry from just a couple of years ago. Well done Dawgs.

59bulldawg

March 12th, 2010
8:41 am

Hey I’m in Virginia and haven’t seen a game all season. Anybody know if the game tonight will be televised and if so on what channel?

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justme

March 12th, 2010
9:01 am

Bad georgia team beat a bad arkansas team..why all the excitement?

Future Engineer

March 12th, 2010
9:04 am

I like men. Hairy ones

NJ Dawg

March 12th, 2010
9:05 am

Since he’s approaching his first full offseason as the Dawgs’ coach, I sure hope Fox can recruit like he coaches. If he can get some starting talent to complement Tompkins and Leslie, and some depth so the team doesn’t fade late, this team could be really, really good.

Yellow Fuzz

March 12th, 2010
9:09 am

DawginLex

March 12th, 2010
9:15 am

Great win for Coach Fox. Vandy will be a tough out in Nashville. The crowd will be mostly Vandy with a lot of UK folks cheering for UGA.

Sad part for Tech, UGA would beat them again in a rematch right now.

It wouldn’t be close.

UGA Rules

March 12th, 2010
9:18 am

Arkansas just not very good. So we beat a terrible LSU team and beat a pretty bad Arkansas team…The AJC makes it look like we beat Kentucky or some other great team. Folks we still are Horrendous! Look at the record it speaks for itself!!! Beating Vandy in Nashville would be a credible win especially in Nashville but it will take winning the SEC Tourney to truly make up for all of the losses this season.

Dawg Fud

March 12th, 2010
9:23 am

i told my wife that i wanted to buy basketball season tickets for next year. Fox deserves our support and i am happy to give it to him.

plus i love watching Travis Leslie play

Yellow Fuzz – ask your overrated-soon-to-be-fired coach who has been riding that nat’l championship game appearance into the ground if he cares that you guys got smacked in the mouth this season. pipe down chump.

Dawg Fud

March 12th, 2010
9:24 am

59bulldawg – where do you live in VA?

Charles

March 12th, 2010
9:27 am

Do you just write things without actually thinking? A play-in game because of the time? Dude, the 9:45 slot was for the 3 from the west to play the 6 from the east. No more a ‘play-in’ game than the 7:30 or noon affairs. I mean, I know you have to understand that, but it’s just weird to see a professional writer editorializing in such an asinine fashion. Anywho, carry on…

tankdonovan

March 12th, 2010
9:33 am

Ga., does have a chance with Vandy. A real good chance. Beat them once and lost a close one in OT. A very slime chance to win it all. Kentucky is just to strong. But, I think the Dawgs may be a force in the future.

Go DAWGS!

yellarjacket

March 12th, 2010
9:45 am

I’ve been very impressed with what Fox has been able to accomplish this year. As much as it pains me to say it, Georgia’s BB program is on the rise. Fox is basically winning with two SEC caliber players and a bunch of guys who know their role and play hard. Once he has a chance to recruit and gets guys in to fit his style of play, Georgia will be good. The guy can coach and his players seem to improve as the season goes on.

Dawg Fud – I like watching Travis Leslie play as well. The kid is an athlete. He reminds me of Isma’il Muhammad who played at Tech during our Final Four run. Both guys can jump out of the gym and are staples on SportCenter’s top ten highlights. Although, I think Leslie has a better overall game, because he actually has a jumpshot.

Georgia beats Vandy tonight. Tech beats Maryland as well.

JacksonvilleDawg

March 12th, 2010
9:49 am

Jeff, I like the column however Im afraid you just Jinxed us, Vandy still the favorite and well rested. and Georgia is really bad when finishing tight games so I would say Vandy has major advantage but I believe Georgia has the bigger heart, should be very interesting game. Go Dawgs

Leedawg

March 12th, 2010
9:52 am

Hey UGA Rules, for the first time in forever we have something to be OPTIMISTIC about concerning hoops. We’re not saying that the Final Four is within reach for next year. Freakin’ buzzkill.

59bulldawg

March 12th, 2010
9:55 am

Dawg Fud . . . Fredericksburg.

Jake

March 12th, 2010
10:01 am

Vandy will win.

[...] performance.4.  The Dawgs’ defensive effort was key in the victory.5.  One writer is wondering if UGA can once again catch lightning in a bottle and make a miracle run through the SEC’s bracket.6.  First, the Bulldogs will need to focus [...]

A Joke For You!!!!!

March 12th, 2010
10:20 am

UGA BASKETBALL HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

UR Nuts

March 12th, 2010
10:26 am

Vandy will DESTROY UGA in their hometown. I think we’re in for a laugher. What are the odds of UGA beating Vandy twice in one year? I’ll take those odds…