UGA’s hoops epitaph: It gave itself a chance but lost anyway

The story of a season. (AP photo)

It was both the end of the road and the story of the season. (AP photo)

Charlotte — “Losing in the tournament,” Mark Fox said, his voice a rasp as Friday night became Saturday morning, “there should be no shame in that.” There shouldn’t, and there isn’t. You could even describe the presence of Georgia in the NCAA tournament as a breakthrough. And yet …

The season that ended here didn’t feel quite that emphatic. Georgia won 21 games and made the Big Dance, yes. It also lost 12 games and was gone from the NCAA after 40 minutes that could stand as the season in miniature.

The Bulldogs got what they wanted against Washington — the game, the pace, the score. They just couldn’t win it. “Yes,” said Fox, the Georgia coach, “that was frustrating.”

Two years ago it was possible to wonder if the Bulldogs would ever again grace the only tournament that matters. That they made it in their second try under Fox says much about this coach, and in a different era we would look on Georgia and foresee, to borrow from the late Al McGuire, only seashells and balloons. But we live in a colder time, where this season’s team can bear little resemblance to next’s.

There’s a chance we might have watched one of the more talented Bulldog assemblages come and go without registering even one NCAA tournament win. Not since the early ’80s, when Dominique Wilkins and Vern Fleming worked in tandem, has Georgia had a duo as gifted as Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, but what are the chances we’ll see either or both of these juniors play another collegiate minute?

Said Fox: “They could come back and we could have a great team. They could leave and we could have a young team. One could stay and one could go.”

Fox has signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a shooting guard from Greenville High who should become Georgia’s first McDonald’s All-American recruit since Carlos Strong in 1992. (Louis Williams was a McDonald’s All-American but didn’t enroll; Damien Wilkins was, but arrived as a transfer.) Put Caldwell-Pope alongside Thompkins and Leslie and you’d have a Top 10 team. But the probability is that Thompkins will leave, and with him would go any hope of such a lofty ranking.

Georgia left so many winnable games on the table this season they needed an extra leaf to accommodate them all. Friday’s was just the last of a series. The Bulldogs led by seven in the first half, saw Washington tie it at the break, fell behind by 10 with 12 1/2 minutes left and still trailed by eight with 36 seconds remaining. But they cut it to two and had a chance to tie on Leslie’s fling off a deflection at the buzzer.

Afterward Thompkins didn’t care to ponder missed opportunities. “We gave it every shot we had,” he said. And then: “I don’t regret anything. We’re a tough bunch.”

But they weren’t tough or clever enough to turn a good season into something more. Big men Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes were inconsistent. Guards Gerald Robinson Jr. and Dustin Ware were too much alike — neither a true point guard, neither a knockdown shooter. And there was nothing beyond Barnes in the way of depth. Said Fox after Georgia’s full-tilt rally that fell one basket short: “We’re just not deep enough to play that way all the time.”

Georgia scored 65 points against Washington; Thompkins and Leslie accounted for 38 of those. And now their partnership could end after three seasons, and if it does, Fox will have a hard time finding a starting five, let alone filling out his bench.

And that’s why college basketball has become such an ephemeral thing: You must win big when the opportunity arises, for next season holds no guarantee. (Indeed, who’s to say Caldwell-Pope mightn’t be a one-and-done?)

There was no dishonor in anything Georgia did this season: Its losses were all close, all to worthy opponents. But it would be wrong to suggest there wasn’t disappointment. The Bulldogs gave themselves a chance against Washington, same as they’d given themselves a chance against everybody. Chances, alas, aren’t the same as victories.

By Mark Bradley

284 comments Add your comment

HickoryDawg

March 19th, 2011
2:11 am

Good Job!!

March 19th, 2011
2:12 am

Good Job!!

March 19th, 2011
2:13 am

Second!! haha

Mark Bradley

March 19th, 2011
2:13 am

Kudos, HickoryDawg. But why are you — and you, too, Good Job! — still awake?

HickoryDawg

March 19th, 2011
2:14 am

I just got back from the game. We coulda, shoulda won, but that has been the story all season. Too little too late in the last minute and 30 seconds. Where was the sense of urgency in the team down the stretch. Fox needs to learn to Finish the Drill, just like Richt. Leslie isn’t ready for the NBA, he needs another year to develop. Hope Thompkins stays but i doubt he will

J Clay

March 19th, 2011
2:17 am

Just home from the game. Could have won, but sitll proud of the team. That offensive interference call was bogus and momentum shifted from that point on (we had 4 trips in a row with no points)…

Hope Coach Fox stays

HickoryDawg

March 19th, 2011
2:18 am

Mark “FM” Bradley,
what are the chances Thompkins returns, and also what about Leslie’s chances? and if they leave, who is the next stud that UGA has to replace either one?

merbertmoover

March 19th, 2011
2:25 am

man, so close! but im proud of our dawgs….that was a tough game and we came really close. wasn’t really expecting us to win, but im glad i could watch the game with interest until the last second. even if thompkins and leslie leave, i still have high hopes for the future with Fox.

merbertmoover

March 19th, 2011
2:26 am

and im up, Mark, because it’s only 8:30 here in hawaii

Fulton

March 19th, 2011
2:27 am

Disappointing. Washington was the 3rd or 4th best team in a bad Pac-10 and yet they were clearly the better team tonight. That should tell us something about where UGA is.

But a tough loss? Not really. More like a tough season. This team had more talent and they never could put it together consistently.

JSS

March 19th, 2011
2:45 am

Robinson gets way too much grief… As you pointed out, he’s playing out of position. Paired with the right type of point guard, he could make a nice complimentary scorer. He could give you offense in bunches as a 6th man in a 3 guard set. Ware is more perplexing, he needs lot of picks or a solid compliment in a two man game where you screen to get him looks…

I’ll say it again, they need a guard who does need to shoot as much as they hand the ball and gets them in the offense deeper than crossing half court and immediately getting the ball out of their hand and not breaking down a defense… Georgia is horrible at that….

Chris

March 19th, 2011
2:52 am

It was really nice to see GA basketball on the national radar after such a long time.
I doubt either Thompkins or Leslie stay. AS you said Mark, if they both stay, we’re looking at a top 10, top 20 team for sure. But how many times have we seen superstar talent leave only for the remaining team along with newcomers gel into a true team? Re: The year after Dominique Wilkins left.

I thought there was too much standing around when rebounds were available. There was a point with less than two minutes left in the game when a Washington player missed a layup and one Huskie went after and put the ball in the basket while three GA players were just standing there watching under the rim. Rodman taught us rebounding is more about ‘want to’, drive and passion more than any skill set. I didn’t see the stats but they had to outrebound us tonight.
Also too much passing back and forth at the perimeter instead of taking it to the basket until the shot clock ran down to seven seconds and a wild shot was thrown up to beat the buzzer.

We looked discombobulated but I am a big Mark Fox fan. Here’s hoping that he doesn’t use the program as a stepping stone preferring to build something of substance here.

There are two kinds of columnists that post at 2 in the morning: The quick and the dead.

ONE AND DONE

March 19th, 2011
3:15 am

Ross

March 19th, 2011
3:15 am

“It’s UGA’s time.” Yeah right Mark. Woof woof.

RealTechEngineer

March 19th, 2011
3:21 am

Another mediocre season for Ga–but they’ll give fox a huge raise and bonus and act like losing in the first round is an “accomplishment.” It will be more mediocrity next year.

RomeDawg

March 19th, 2011
3:46 am

RealTechEngineer – Atleast we danced! I would be willing to bet we don’t give him a contract like the one that the genius Braine gave Hewitt. HAHA!

Mark Bradley`s Booster

March 19th, 2011
3:59 am

RealTechEngineer: Pitiful comment. Any trip to the NCAA means a team had better than a medicore season. Where were the Jackets?

CPH

March 19th, 2011
5:14 am

If I would’ve made the same “No shame” comments last year, you would’ve gone ballistic. I guess after underachieving this year, Mark Fox doesn’t walk on water after all.

Mulk

March 19th, 2011
5:27 am

There will be a poster on here later who will point out all the close losses UGAG had this year including this one. Of course, they will count them all as wins and will deduce that UGAG should have been 29-4 with a berth in the final four. They always somehow seem to forget aboutr all the close wins that could have been losses. they overachieved this season. Congratulations. But, don’t assume that they are a basketball power.

whats a three point shot worth ?

March 19th, 2011
6:06 am

after all that talk about how UGA matches up with UNC, and Ga falls in their first game of the Tourny…lol

Football Guy

March 19th, 2011
6:09 am

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
What about Uga vs UNC
Hahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahaha
What Uga COULD go far
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
What about Uga on your bracket
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

Turnt_Up

March 19th, 2011
6:27 am

From a Tech fan, congrats to UGA on their trip to the dance. While many said that they didn’t belong in the dance, they were competitive to the end. If those two come back next year, you will have what GT and most ball clubs don’t have in this era, high-caliber seniors. I think the trick in these times is to recruit guys who aren’t good enough to be NBA, but good enough to have great college careers and stick around as seniors. Trust me, the one and done thing is over-rated, see GT…

Vince

March 19th, 2011
6:32 am

Told ya, MARK BADLY! Georgia over North Carolina….BWAHAHAHAHAHA… BWAHAHAHAHA. You are just a mediocre home town reporter from a less then mediocre home town rag. Go Dawgs….BWAHAHAHAHAH!

gatorgirl

March 19th, 2011
6:32 am

Mark, do you still think Georgia wins the SEC? Kudos for your optimsm where the dawgs are concerned. But reality bites. The dawgs are good, but not good enough. Go Gators!

Georgia Fan

March 19th, 2011
6:34 am

Georgia will be alright. I’m proud of my dawgs. It takes a lot to beat the Bradley curse!!!

ejj

March 19th, 2011
6:35 am

If you stop making predictions, maybe GA teams can play to their own strengths, and acknowledge their weaknesses.

rustydawg

March 19th, 2011
6:39 am

Thanks Turnt_Up. Same bitter non-sense from other GT fans…. GT has woefully underachived for years…

Basketball Fan

March 19th, 2011
6:52 am

It’s amazing how close their records are over the last two years:

Out of Conference Regular Season:
Paul Hewitt 20-8 Mark Fox 19-9

In Conference Regular Season:
Hewitt 12-20 Fox 14-18

Conference Tourney:
Hewitt 3-2 Fox 2-2

NCAA Tourney:
Hewitt 1-1 Fox 0-1

Overall Record:
Hewitt 36-31 Fox 35-29

Fox was undefeated against Hewitt though, but so was the Kennesaw State coach and he’s in the unemployment line today.

Silly, Silly Bark Madly

March 19th, 2011
6:58 am

Didn’t you say UGA would beat Washington and later beat UNC? You failed, Bark. Stop letting your man crush on anything UGA cloud your picks.

Alabama Jack

March 19th, 2011
7:00 am

juvenal

March 19th, 2011
7:00 am

the anouncment show, the brackets(last minute airline tix hurt, though, had to pay 1st class to get to Milwaukee last year), the idea, the HOPE you might be playing 3 weekends-the 2 FF’s weren’t as good as Orlando, but if we had won? congrats to making the dance, to that small% of dawg fans that cared enough to buy in, FB/BB, blondes/brunettes?

TROTTINGHOME

March 19th, 2011
7:04 am

THANK YOU DAWGS!!!!!!……all you got to do is watch the HAWKS and you will see the glory of the DAWGS.

zinc

March 19th, 2011
7:16 am

Eating your words today Bradley? It’s too bad that your dying devotion for all things UGA clouds your judgment as a sports writer. Care to comment on your previous statement about how UGA would pull upsets in the tournament? How about remind us how the SEC East was better than the ACC as a whole this season?

GT71

March 19th, 2011
7:21 am

Congratulations to UGA, the team and to Coach Fox. You got there and you’ll fare better next year.
Remember, getting there is the point – no disgrace in losing; at least you were invited.
A baseball analogy: you never hear baseball players talk about ‘winning’ the world series during the season. They always talk about ‘playing’ in the WS. The NCAA tourney is like that.
Coach Fox will build on this season, don’t ever doubt that.
So here’s to the ‘mutts’.

sacramento hokie

March 19th, 2011
7:29 am

Proof again that teams like USC,UAB,VCU and UGA were a joke to be invited to the Big Dance.The ACC only had four teams because of a bias against them by the so called “objective committee” .Yet they produce the National Champ every year!The Big Least had 11 teams-all will be gone in a week!

Steve "The King" Spurrier

March 19th, 2011
7:36 am

I heard a lot of UGA football players were considering transfers to Auburn. Apparently they have a new certificate program in breaking and entering there. You’ll never find that level of ‘edutation sofistication’ in Clarke County.

UGA is a state champion football power.

Basketball is for sissies anyway…

Will

March 19th, 2011
7:36 am

Just as I have consistently tried to get you to see the bigger picture related to UGA Bbal (a good season, nothing more, nothing less – Mark Fox – a good coach, nothing more nothing less), let me get on record for next year.

Thompkins will leave – even if Leslie returns, Leslie will continue to be, just like Robinson, a great athlete is plays backetball, not a great basketball player. Ware is not a nationally competitive point guard. The highly touted youngster will either live up to his billing and be a “one and down” or he will not. One of the most glarind failures of the coaching staff was not developing any type of bench strength this year – remember the bench was largely recruting by this staff – the starters by Dennis Felton. If the bench strength is misisng because the bench is not SEC caliber, then the coaching staff has no one to blame but themselves.

Too much priority on “ESPN 10 Ten Plays” and too little priority on team ball from Leslie and Robinsion – neither can lead a TEAM.

UGA will take a step back next year in wins. The sports media will scratch their heads and wonder, “what’s wrong?” – toward the end of the season this same media will begin to write and post – Mark Fox is surely not on any hot seat but if next year does not improve, the following year will be important to Fox.

And that will be hogwash – Mark Fox is a good, not great coach this year and will be the same good coach next year and the next.

If I am wrong and UGA exceeds this year’s win total next year, then Mark Fox will become a hot commodity for teams looking for a new coach. UGA has the money to keep Fox around but does not have the basketball culture to do so. Schools with that culture, money and perception can take Fox from UGA.

Beast from the East

March 19th, 2011
7:38 am

The Dawgs just don’t have the depth. After Leslie and Thompkins, the rest of the supporting cast is just mediocre. If they had something (anything) off of the bench, they could play at a much higher level for 40 minutes. Oh well, at least you made the dance. Nothing to be ashamed of considering the state of the program just a couple of years ago.

Marc Herold

March 19th, 2011
7:42 am

The dawgs lose to the Dawgs…It could have gone either way..each team has its talented players and each University should be proud of them. I was more worried when the dawgs and the Dawgs faced off in the Women’s College Softball World Series…The NCAA promotes an even playing field and seems to have acheived it- Two Powerful Conferences,the same two Universities so far apart, playng “for all the marbles” in such different sports really displays the American Spirit at its best…No shame in a loss, no gloating in a win…Hats off to all the atheletes…better, more glorious days ahead for all . PeAce (a Dawg fan from Shoreline WA)

Cheech

March 19th, 2011
7:54 am

Mark—-I told you about smoking that stuff before you make your wild predictions—–I guess this means UGA won’t beat UNC? The two best jobs in the world—-a weather man and writing for the AJC—neither has to right and they still get paid.

TROTTINGHOME

March 19th, 2011
8:02 am

@ WILL…I quit reading that shyt…worse than Bradley

BYRDDAWG

March 19th, 2011
8:05 am

OH THE PAIN THE PAIN!!!!!!!

reddawg

March 19th, 2011
8:13 am

Brad you got to give Fox a break. He is in his 2 year and you act like he could have gotten uga to the final four.All year he had bench issues and had to play his straters to long.At least for the system he runs.You sit their and take a shoot or two ,that’s fine.But this man is going to sign another Big man maybe get a transfer from tennessee and he has his 5 for next year.Out.

Buzz 2010

March 19th, 2011
8:14 am

Dawgs to the final four, right Bradley? They shouldn’t have even made the dance.
Alabama took them twice and were not picked. The Dogs better be thankful they don’t
have to face the ACC Tar Heels Sunday..How much you you expect Washington yo win that one by Mark??
Yellow Jackets…………………………..

dawgerbrown

March 19th, 2011
8:24 am

Georgia played a good game but it was so frustrating to see the DAWGS have to work so hard to get a shot compared to Washington. Our offense was pushed so far out from the basket, and our gurards pick up the dribble too soon. We end up having to make tough passes and committing way too many turnovers. Having Price in the first half would have made a big difference. Missed too many easy shots around the basket in the first half. In the secon half we just gave them too many easy offensive rebounts and put-back. Didn’t rebound as well and get after loose balls. It will be interesting to see what happens next year.

uga homers

March 19th, 2011
8:24 am

bradley and other uga suckups at the ajc will be predicting big things for uga in football and basketball next year, as usual, and uga will choke again, as usual. Some things—they never change.

RCB

March 19th, 2011
8:32 am

GREAT SEASON! Try on Tennessee for size if you want to have a pity party (or half the other SEC teams who went down in big time flames).

leroy

March 19th, 2011
8:36 am

If Thompkins is smart he will stay at Georgia. He is NOT NBA ready. I am an 22 year NBA season tix holder and I see a soft player who is out of shape. His game, his maturity and most of all his conditioning and competitive fire are substandard from a professional standpoint. He will get his lunch handed to him nightly by the likes of Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Al Hortford, Pau Gasol, Danilo Galinari, Dirk Nowitzi, David West, Lamarcus Aldridge, etc.

As for Leslie, he MAY be a second rounder and will be in the D league playing in BFE or Europe.

UGA’s ouster was a Cliff’s Notes version of their season… competitive, but lots of dumb plays, turnovers, bad shots, and a close and frustrating loss of a winnable game. If the two players mentioned above stay at UGA and really dedicate themselves- and they get a decent PG- they have a chance to grow and learn and maybe in some of those close games next year.

Paul N Destin

March 19th, 2011
8:45 am

The power if the SEC East ? Vandy,UGA,UT and KY….Perhaps the SEC should just have games of horse to select the teams that go to the big show. UGA and UT didn’t deserve to be at the Dance.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

March 19th, 2011
8:51 am

dawgerbrown,

Great point. I was sickened by the way Fox allowed UW to press us for essentially the entire second half without coming back with some pressure himself. I understand wanting to control tempo, but UGA did that and still lost the damn game. The pressure UW put on UGA in the second half was the key in UGA not being able to get Thompkins good looks down low as he spent to much time helping push the ball upcourt. That imo is a coaching issue with Fox, seems very hesitant if not slow to make in game adjustments.