March 10, 2010

Dawgs set for Arkansas in SEC Tourney

Albert Jackson admits that it's difficult to believe that two years have passed since Georgia's miraculous run in the 2008 SEC Tournament, which will forever be remembered for the tornado that rocked the Georgia Dome and brought downtown Atlanta to its collective knees.

Ironically, Jackson is the lone Bulldog who remains from that memorable Bulldog squad, which shocked the conference by somehow winning the storm-delayed tourney that included same-day victories over Kentucky and Mississippi State, in of all places Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the campus of arch-rival Georgia Tech.

He remembers it well.

Nobody gave the Bulldogs much of a chance to be competitive, much less win and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tourney.

Ditto for 2010.

When Georgia tips off Thursday night (9:45 p.m.) at the Sommet Center in Nashville against Arkansas in the first round of the SEC Tournament, nobody will be expecting the Bulldogs to make much noise.

But the way Jackson sees it, if the 2008 squad could shock the country, why can't this year's team do the same?

"I always think we're going to win every game, but this team we probably got more all-around talent than that team had. We've got a great group of guys with a lot of different skill sets, whereas that team we had just had a few scholarship players, players had been kicked off and there just wasn't as much talented of a team," Jackson said. "If we play the high level we have played at during certain times this year, we can make the same run without the tornado."

Time will obviously tell.

Should the Bulldogs get past the Razorbacks (14-17), which overcame a 15-point halftime deficit to beat Georgia 72-68 in Athens, it would set up a date with Vanderbilt in Friday's second round.

"I do think that we've been a feisty, resilient group, and we have been. I think they recognized early that there might be some nights where we get out-talented but if we played hard enough we could overcome that and close the gap," head coach Mark Fox said. "In a tournament setting, if we can maintain that level of intensity and combine that with mistake-free basketball then I think we've got a good a chance as a lot of teams."

Georgia will certainly need a better effort than what it gave in the season-finale at LSU.

The Tigers came in with just one conference victory all year, but outplayed the Bulldogs and came away with a 50-48 victory which kept Georgia winless on the road in league play.

"It was a combination of a lot of things; there wasn't just one thing to point out," Jackson said. "There was a lack of focus you could say, we didn't come out with a lot of determination and we might have underestimated them. We let them play tougher than us. It was a combination of a lot of things."

Jackson hopes the bad experience can in some small way help the team come Thursday.

"I think it would be bad for us to have forgotten about it," he said. "Sometimes that pain of losing; of letting one get away; sometimes I think that helps. I don't think there's anything wrong with being frustrated with ourselves."

Point guard Dustin Ware understands exactly where Jackson is coming from.

"What you want to forget is all the things that led up to that performance, all the bad habits and the things we didn't do," he said. "But at the same time, you want to remember the mistakes and how you felt after the game knowing you didn't put your best foot forward."

Fox is confident such issues won't be a problem Thursday night for his Bulldogs, who have dropped three of their last four games, including an 80-68 loss to Kentucky last Wednesday night.

"We didn't play well last week, but as we've done every week, our focus has been on trying to improve each day, each week, learn lessons from the previous week and use those to get better," Fox said. "I think that we'll be a better team than we were last week but the key is to play well. This team has played well on numerous occasions, but our battle has been being a consistent group. Hopefully, we can find that consistency this week."

SEC Tournament

The GAME: Georgia vs. Arkansas

WHERE: The Sommet Center, Nashville, Tenn.

WHEN: Thursday, 9:45 p.m.

RECORDS: Georgia - 13-15; Arkansas - 14-17

TVSEC Network (Peachtree TV, Atlanta)

NEXT UP: The winner of Georgia-Arkansas plays Vanderbilt Friday night at 9:45.

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