WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A healthy number of red-clad Georgia fans showed up Friday night in the nation’s capital, their first chance to see the Bulldogs men’s basketball team in person since the 2008 NCAA tournament game in the city against Xavier.
That team needed a miracle run in the SEC tournament to get there. This team would need that too, but what’s been on display thus far this season gives little hope even that is possible.
Georgia’s 73-55 loss at George Washington was, mercifully or not, the final game in the Bulldogs’ non-conference season. Before the season, six wins in non-conference play was the worst-case scenario for Georgia.
And six wins is the result.
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Head coach Mark Fox, his future at Georgia looking more tenuous with each loss, was asked what glimmer of hope he could glean from non-conference play. He chose not to go big-picture, and he kept it at basketball.
“We’ve learned a lot about ourselves. But we have to toughen up on defense and on the boards. That’s what I’m concerned about,” Fox said. “We’ve got to figure out how to get better. Not to avoid your question, but that’s what I’m concerned about. We’ve learned that over the non-conference about ourselves.”
There isn’t great shame in losing to George Washington (12-2), or Colorado, which beat the Bulldogs last week. But added to the other four losses -- to Georgia Tech and an 0-for-3 in the Charleston Classic -- it paints a bleak picture. The six wins were all at home over inferior opponents.
“We’re 6-6,” Georgia shooting guard Kenny Gaines said. “We do have some good wins under our belt, we’ve just gotta take those and roll with them.”
What were the good wins?
“Every win is a good one,” Gaines said, laughing. “Obviously.”
Georgia’s deficiencies were on display at the Smith Center on Friday night. The Bulldogs actually hung in for awhile, trailing only by five at the half. But the game quickly got away early in the second half, with the Colonials leading by as many as 21.
The stat sheet said Georgia’s biggest problem was 3-point shooting and passing. Fox maintained the biggest problems were defense and rebounding. That left little room for positives.
“We’ve got to learn to appreciate and commit to the dirty work,” Fox said. “All games are won in the trenches, and right now, we’re not doing that.”
George Washington had 45 points in the second half, propelled by second-chance points and Georgia turnovers.
Georgia also only had four assists, easily a season-low. Its half-court offense was abysmal.
“We need to share the ball better,” junior forward Nemanja Djurisic said before returning to the theme of defense. “It starts everything on the defensive end. That gives us a lot of confidence and energy. We didn’t do that well, and it reflected on the offensive end.”
But outside shooting also remains a huge issue. George Washington went zone, as many teams do against Georgia, which lacks the consistent 3-point shooting to bust the zone.
“We’re working. We’re practicing every day, shooting a ton of 3s,” Gaines said. “We’ve just gotta focus more on making sure everything is right, mechanics, and being tougher-minded so we can make plays.”
Gaines was asked what hope the team can take into conference play, which begins Wednesday at Missouri, another tough matchup.
“It is a chance to wipe the slate clean,” Gaines said of starting conference play. “This is where it really matters. Even though the games before did matter, we’ve just gotta start out fresh. And it begins (Saturday) in practice.”