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Odd late timeout highlights potential bubble-burst for Georgia

Ryan Greene
The Dagger

By no means did Georgia play itself completely out of NCAA tournament at-large contention with a 69-65 overtime loss to Alabama in Friday's SEC tournament quarterfinals.

But the latest episode in a long line of second-half collapses this season for the Bulldogs was compounded by a strange timeout call that coach Mark Fox may have nightmares about if Selection Sunday treats his team unkindly.

A 14-point second-half lead completely evaporated for Georgia when Bama's Trevor Releford scored on an acrobatic move underneath the bucket with 4.2 seconds showing on the clock to tie the game at 53-53.

ESPN color commentator Jimmy Dykes immediately suggested that Georgia should have called a timeout right then and there, but instead, Fox didn't call it until Dustin Ware crossed mid-court.

With 0.8 seconds remaining.

The most wrenching part of the final sequence is that, just as Fox was granted the timeout, Ware banked in a long-range runner that would have gone in the books as a thrilling game-winner.

Georgia led twice early in overtime thanks to finishes in the paint by Trey Thompkins, but a Tony Mitchell 3-pointer with the game tied moments later gave Alabama all the margin it needed to hang on.

The game was looked at as essentially an NCAA at-large play-in game of sorts, as both teams entered the league tournament hanging around on the bubble and needing to pile on as many additional wins as possible.

Georgia (21-10) led by nine at the half, and the 14-point edge began to tumble just past the mid-way point in the second stanza. It was a tough loss to swallow, but not quite buries the Dawgs' hopes of playing in the NCAA tournament for just the second time since 2002.

They just need some help now.

With wins against Kentucky, Colorado and Vanderbilt on the résumé, the Bulldogs have an RPI of 39, a schedule strength of 49 and nothing that qualifies as a bad loss. But room on the bubble is shrinking, and Georgia is now likely on the chopping block, leaving itself brutally unprotected.

Despite now having 21 wins of its own, Alabama's profile has been scrutinized left and right this season. It includes an RPI of 85, a schedule that ranks as the nation's 129th strongest and contains losses to the likes of Iowa, St. Peter's and Providence. But the fact is that even though the SEC West was woeful this season, Alabama took care of itself in conference play and finished atop the heap. That counted for something.

The kicker? Alabama now owns back-to-back victories over Georgia in a span of six days.

This latest — and most excruciating — late-game meltdown for Georgia could prove to be the toughest one to recover from, with viable bid-stealers such as St. Joseph's, Dayton and Oregon lurking around.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for the Las Vegas Sun. Read his Rebels coverage and follow him on Twitter.

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