ATHENS -- Mark Fox’s teams used to play Louisiana Tech all the time when he was Nevada. They were in the same conference -- about 2,000 miles apart.
“That’s a heck of a conference game to go from Ruston to Reno,” Fox said.
This time the alma mater of Karl Malone is coming to Fox, whose Georgia team will host Louisiana Tech in a second-round NIT game at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
Georgia (20-13) is hosting because it’s the higher seed. But Louisiana Tech’s record is better (27-7), and its RPI was in the 30s, making it a legitimate contender for an NCAA at-large bid.
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So the Bulldogs almost certainly have to play better than they did Wednesday, when they turned the ball over a season-high 23 times and fell behind by eight in the second half. A second-half rally saved Fox’s team.
“We can’t play the way we did the other night,” Fox said. “We won the other night because our crowd picked us up, and we kind of dug back in and made a few plays.”
Yes, the crowd. It was just less than 4,000 at Stegeman Coliseum, but the general admission seating put all the fans in the best seats, closer to the court, making it a real home-court advantage.
Fox and Georgia are doing their best to replicate that Saturday. The students are being allowed in for free again, and Fox said he will personally hand out chicken biscuits.
The worry for Georgia is that the late-morning tipoff will prove detrimental to turnout.
“We do appreciate when the crowd comes because it does give us an extra boost,” sophomore guard Kenny Gaines said. “But if they aren’t able to make it out early, then (the energy) is gonna have to come from within the group ourselves.”
Georgia will enter having 10 of its last 13 games, including six straight at home. The Bulldogs just reached the 20-win barrier, only the second time in 12 seasons, and now the main goal is getting to New York for the NIT Final Four. It’s not any program’s marquee goal, but for a young Georgia team it would be a good step.
In order to do that, Georgia must first beat Louisiana Tech, then the winner of Monday’s Georgetown-Florida State game.
Fox compared Louisiana Tech to Arkansas in terms of its athleticism and style of play.
“Everyone playing now is good. And they’re very good,” Fox said. “A lot of interchangeable parts. Shooting the 3 all over the place, a lot of guys that can score. A defensive team forcing turnovers. I mean they are an excellent team, and arguably a team that likely came down to the bitter end on whether they got in or not.”