The Bulldogs hope their 74-68 victory, which completed a season sweep of the Wildcats, will be remembered as the beginning of one of the program’s most improbable NCAA Tournament runs ever.
“There’s still a chance, and it’s still our goal,” senior Damien Wilkins said. “We’re not going to lose sight of that goal until the fat lady starts singing, and that hasn’t happened yet.”
Georgia improved to 12-10 overall and 4-7 in the SEC with the win over Kentucky and notched its third win of the season over a team ranked in the top 21 of the all-important RPI.
The Bulldogs can notch another quality win and add real legitimacy to their quest with a win against Florida tonight at 9 in Stegeman Coliseum. The Gators (14-7, 5-5) fell out of the Associated Press rankings Monday but remain No. 12 in the RPI. The game will be televised by ESPN.
“It’s just another step of many steps we have to make to stay in the hunt, but it would obviously be a very, very significant step because they are one of the best teams in the country,” Coach Dennis Felton said.
Georgia’s quality wins -- two over the Wildcats (No. 3 RPI) and one over Georgia Tech (No. 21 RPI) -- and an RPI ranking of 51 allow it still to have hope for an at-large bid.
The Bulldogs started the conference season 1-5 but would move to just a half game out of third place in the Eastern Division with a win today.
After the Florida game, they will close the season with games against Tennessee at home, South Carolina on the road, Florida on the road and Vanderbilt at home.
“As inconsistent as we’ve been, we aren’t that far from the pack,” Wilkins said.
Georgia must win at least three of its last five games to have a shot at the NCAAs. That would leave it 7-9 in the SEC and with 15 wins overall.
Last year’s Alabama team earned an at-large bid with a 7-9 conference record thanks mainly to a strength of schedule ranked 20th in the country. Georgia’s strength of schedule is ranked No. 21 this year.
Still, no one on the team would feel comfortable with just three more wins to round out the year.
“I wouldn’t expect to go in with 7-9,” senior Jonas Hayes said.
Felton said, “I think 8-8 gets us is, 7-9, possibly.”
In ESPN.com’s most recent bracket projection, seven SEC teams are predicted to go to the tournament. Of those seven, Kentucky, South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU seem to have their spots assured.
Florida, Alabama and Vanderbilt, the other three projected teams, remain on the bubble, though.
“It’s realistic from the standpoint it’s possible,” Felton said. “If we win out, we should be in the NCAA Tournament. Now, you have to wonder, ‘How realistic is it we win out?’”
That depends on which Georgia team shows up, the one that lost to Winthrop by 20 points and dropped its first two league games by a combined 45 or the one that bullied Kentucky twice this season.
Georgia’s players are at a loss to say how they look so good one minute and so bad the next.
“I’ve been trying to figure that out all year long, and, to be honest with you, I don’t know why that is,” Wilkins said. “I haven’t figured it out yet, but we have to have that attitude for the next five games because they are all big games for us.
“We just have to keep that sense of urgency. I don’t think this is the time for us to back down, and I don’t think anybody will do that.”