At the office, I sit under one of the newsroom televisions, and early Friday afternoon a group of coworkers had gathered standing behind me. The boss walked by and cracked, “What, everyone’s watching Bill work?”
Sure, if by work you mean trying to edit a story while keeping one eye on the Georgia-Alabama game in the SEC basketball tournament.
It was looking good there for a while, but knowing the history of Mark Fox’s team this season I wasn’t too comfortable, even when the Dogs were up by 14 points with a little under 7 minutes left in the game.
About three minutes later, a couple of guys from sports were discussing plans for continued coverage of Georgia in the SEC tourney when I spoke up: “Hey, this game’s not over yet.” The lead had already been cut to 7 and I feared UGA was reverting to the midseason form that had seen them blow double-digit second-half leads before.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened.
Of course, like many other fans, in the immediate aftermath my first inclination was to question Fox’s curious decisions on timeouts late in game, failing to call one when Gerald Robinson was trapped and couldn’t get a decent shot off, and then doing the reverse and stopping the clock just as Dustin Ware let go of what would have been a game-winning and NCAA berth-securing 3-pointer at the end of regulation.
“We could have had the win, but he called timeout,” Travis Leslie lamented after the game.
True, but Leslie would have been more on point if he’d said, “We could have had the win but we choked and made too many turnovers, missed foul shots and got beat on the boards.”
In other words, Mark Fox wasn’t responsible for Georgia losing that game because it never should have come down to the buzzer.
As Leslie noted, with Georgia up by 14 “we probably got too comfortable and also fatigue was in place.”
The fatigue in particular was a big factor. The quick turnaround after Thursday’s win over Auburn worked against Georgia because the one thing Fox hasn’t been able to do in his remarkable two-year reclamation project on the moribund UGA program he inherited is build much of a bench. Georgia’s first five can play with anyone, but beyond that it falls off drastically. Maybe it was a case of tossing the dice, as Fox put it, by keeping his core players in the game so long Friday, but he didn’t really have much of a choice.
Yes, Fox’s execution might have been off at a few key moments during the season, but that doesn’t negate the terrific job he’s done bringing the program back to life. If not for those second-half collapses this season in a flurry of close losses, we might be talking about 30-win team! The Dogs have been that close to joining the elite.
Fox has made UGA basketball matter again.
So whether Georgia is picked for NCAA tournament or not, I have to agree with a Dog fan coworker who came by my desk after the game was over and the little crowd had dispersed.
“I’m still glad he’s our coach,” he said. And then, thinking of the Tubby Smith days he added, “I really hope we can keep him.”
Amen to that.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg