Bulldogs come undone

Steve Megargee
Bulldogs come undone
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Georgia's hopes of an at-large bid may have collapsed as Alabama rallied for the win

ATLANTA – After playing 32 games to build a case for an NCAA tournament bid, Georgia's postseason fate could come down to two decisions: one timeout that wasn't called and one timeout that was.

Georgia blew a 14-point lead in the final 7:30 of regulation Friday and lost 65-59 in overtime to Alabama in an SEC quarterfinal at the Georgia Dome that was billed as a potential NCAA tournament play-in game.

This would rank as one of the more regrettable losses in Georgia's recent history under any circumstances. The way the game ended made it even tougher to take.

After Alabama guard Trevor Releford's layup tied the score with four seconds left in regulation, Bulldogs guard Dustin Ware crossed midcourt with about 1.5 seconds left. Georgia coach Mark Fox was given a timeout with eight-tenths of a second remaining – just before Ware sank a 22-footer off the backboard that would have won the game.

"I honestly didn't [hear the whistle]," Ware said. "I thought it was a clean shot, but then I saw the referee waving it off, so I knew Coach had called a timeout."

After the timeout, Georgia's Trey Thompkins caught the inbounds pass and hurried a turnaround jumper that fell well short of the basket. Alabama went on to take the lead for good on Tony Mitchell's 3-pointer with 1:33 left in overtime.

Fox said he waited on calling the timeout until after Georgia crossed midcourt because he didn't want to give Alabama more time to set up its full-court defense, as the Tide already had forced four turnovers in the final 3:33 of regulation.

"I thought that we would have a little more time than [eight-tenths of a second]," Fox said. "I thought we would get the timeout with a couple of seconds.

"As a matter of fact, I think when I first hollered, it was around two seconds. I think I was trying to glance at the clock, but the referee went to the monitor and obviously got it right. … The ball went in. So, sure, I mean, I wish I hadn't called it because the ball went in."

The decision may have cost Georgia a possible NCAA bid. Or perhaps it didn't.

At least one Alabama player wondered whether Ware's shot would have fallen if Fox hadn't called the timeout.

"I was in the middle of the paint at the time,'' Alabama forward Chris Hines said. "I heard a whistle [to signal the timeout]. If I hadn't heard the whistle, I was going to go up and contest the shot because I'd seen him running down and I wasn't going to let him get a free look at the basket like that. I was going to go run up, but when I heard the whistle, I stopped. Then I looked up, and it went in."

Fox's timeout garnered the majority of attention after the game because it wiped out Ware's basket, but the Bulldogs might not have even been in that position if they'd bothered to call a timeout a little earlier.

The Bulldogs were clinging to a 53-51 lead in the final minute of regulation when two Alabama defenders swarmed guard Gerald Robinson in front of Georgia's bench with the shot clock winding down. The Bulldogs didn't call a timeout and lost the ball on a shot-clock violation with 19 seconds left when Robinson misfired badly on a desperation 3-pointer.

"I wish I would have called it, called the timeout," Robinson said. "At the time, people were just yelling, 'Shoot it! The shot clock's going down.' "

Those decisions were perhaps the biggest lowlights of an epic collapse.

After a dunk by Travis Leslie put Georgia ahead 48-34 with 7:33 left, the Bulldogs made just one more basket the rest of regulation. Georgia also went 5-of-11 from the free-throw line in the final 6:01 of regulation and overtime.

Georgia's fade likely allowed Alabama (21-10) to move ahead of the Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee's pecking order, though neither should celebrate just yet.

Although Alabama posted a 12-4 conference record in the regular season, the Tide entered the day just 85th in the RPI. The teams with the worst RPIs ever to receive at-large invitations were New Mexico in 1999 (74th) and Air Force in 2004 (70th).

Has Alabama done enough to lock up a bid?

"The way the world works, you've never done enough," Hines said. "We can't worry about that. We've just got to go out, keep playing and don't stop until we're automatic qualifiers."

Georgia (21-11) has far more reason to worry. Alabama beat Georgia 65-57 in Tuscaloosa last week. How could the selection committee select the Bulldogs over a team that beat them twice in the last week and had a much better league record (12-4 to 9-7)?

Assuming Alabama now ranks ahead of Georgia in the eyes of the selection committee, the Bulldogs must hope the NCAA is willing to send six SEC teams to the tournament. But the SEC has received that many bids only once in the past four seasons.

Georgia has a quality RPI (39th at the start of the day) and hasn't lost to anyone outside the top 100, though the Bulldogs also are just 3-9 against teams in the top 50.

"I think that we are a tournament team," Fox said. "If I don't call that timeout and we the ball goes in, you know, you don't get to ask that question. That's how close it is."

It's close enough that Georgia should spend the next 24 hours crossing their fingers that no underdogs win conference tournaments and that the selection committee is willing to overlook this debacle. Or else the Bulldogs will spend the offseason remembering two critical decisions that went very, very wrong.