Drawing its biggest basketball crowds in eight years, Georgia expects a fourth consecutive sellout at Stegeman Coliseum for Tuesday night’s game against Florida.
And just as the fans have responded to the team’s improved play, the team has taken note of the fans’ increased interest.
“When we look up in the stands, it’s a very packed crowd and we see a lot of red and black,” senior forward Chris Barnes said. “It’s not like previous years, when we look up and we see other teams have got more fans than us.”
The fans have “definitely been giving us that extra edge, giving us extra energy that we need,” guard Dustin Ware said. “That’s a big part of college basketball, and it’s something we’ve been taking advantage of here lately.”
The Stegeman crowd might be even more charged Tuesday night, when Georgia (9-1 at home, 14-4 overall, 3-2 in the SEC) will be playing on ESPN for a share of first place in the SEC East against the rival Gators. Florida (15-4 overall, 4-1 SEC) enters the game with a one-game lead in the division over three teams tied for second place: Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina.
As of Monday afternoon, Georgia had sold out of 3,200 general-admission student tickets for the game and had about 500 reserved-seat tickets remaining, according to director of marketing John Bateman, who expressed confidence of a sellout by game time. Georgia sold out the 10,523-seat coliseum for the Jan. 8 game against Kentucky and last week’s games against Tennessee and Mississippi State.
Already, Bateman said, Georgia has its longest streak of sellouts since 2002-03, when the Bulldogs sold out their final nine home games in Jim Harrick’s last season as coach.
“One of the things I felt like was important was that we reestablish the atmosphere in the building and create some sort of home-court advantage,” coach Mark Fox said Monday. “Now, when our team plays here, when recruits come here, when fans come here, they get to participate in really the experience that college basketball is all about.”
Georgia had two sellouts last season -– its most in any season since 2002-03, Bateman said –- and two other games in which all reserved seats (but not all student seats) were sold. Student attendance has increased this season, which Georgia attributes partly to a decision to sell student tickets on a single-game, rather than season-ticket, basis and partly to efforts by Fox and others to reach out to campus groups.
The $12-million Stegeman Coliseum renovation, which expanded the concourse and added a dramatic glass facade, also might have drawn the interest of some fans. But the on-court improvement is undoubtedly the big draw.
“Anytime you are winning and competitive in this league,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said, “people are going to show up and watch you play.”
Donovan said before the season that Georgia could be the team to beat in the SEC, and he remains bullish on the Bulldogs. “I think they have the ingredients and makings now of being a special and great team,” he said Monday, “because they have answers at about every spot.” . . . Donovan said transfer Gerald Robinson has been an invaluable addition to a lineup that returned starters Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie and Ware. “I would liken [Robinson's impact] to when Jim Harrick was there and they got Jarvis Hayes as a transfer,” Donovan said. “That is what Robinson has done for their team.” . . . In its past two games, Florida held Auburn and Arkansas to 40 and 43 points, respectively. . . . Georgia has lost 12 of its past 14 games against Florida, but has beaten the Gators in Athens by two points in each of the past two seasons. . . . Florida is 4-0 in true road games this season, posting wins at Tennessee, Auburn, Florida State and Xavier. . . . The Gators are ranked No. 23 in this week’s coaches’ poll and No. 24 in the media poll. Georgia received votes in both polls but not enough to be ranked.
– Tim Tucker, UGA Blog