Bring on Florida.
OK, Georgia players weren’t going so far as to say that after they held off Alabama 66-58 Saturday before 8,118 in Stegeman Coliseum.
Yet suddenly hanging with the Gators on the road Tuesday night — if not beating them — seems a lot more of a possibility now than it did a week ago.
Georgia is off to its first 2-0 Southeastern Conference start since Jan. 9, 2002, when Georgia guards Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann were 7 years old.
“What’s important is the next game, that we continue to grow as competitors and we grow as a team and that we go down there and give ourselves a chance to win in Gainesville,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We’ve made progress and we’ve learned through adversity.”
Gaines and Mann, both sophomores, each scored 22 points as the Bulldogs snapped a five-game losing streak to Alabama. It was a career-high for Gaines who also tied his career-high with six rebounds.
The Bulldogs showed little signs of a letdown after an emotional win at No. 21 Missouri on Wednesday night.
“We talked about that with our team that we could throw away Wednesday if we came out here and laid an egg,” Fox said.
Georgia (8-6) won on an afternoon it shot a season-low 32.6 percent from the field, including just 4 of 21 in the second half.
The Bulldogs came out on top largely because of a workmanlike effort rebounding (a 41-32 advantage) and defense (holding Alabama to 36.5 percent shooting).
“Just like in football, we refer to the trenches, getting it done in the trenches,” forward Marcus Thornton said.
“They really guarded us and we couldn’t score,” Fox said, “but we guarded them also and that certainly was the difference in the game.”
Fox had been critical before SEC play of his team’s defense and rebounding. But he said Saturday his team “deserves credit for digging in and doing the dirty work” against the Crimson Tide (7-8, 1-1).
Georgia tied its season-high with 10 blocked shots.
Thornton, the 6-foot-8, 235-pound junior who got a medical redshirt after knee surgery last season, set a career-high with five blocks and added nine points and eight rebounds.
“I think today you saw how valuable he is,” Fox said. “He was a significant part of this win.”
Georgia limped into SEC play at 6-6, coming off its most lopsided loss of the season of 18 points at George Washington.
A week later, the Bulldogs are tied with No. 10 Florida, No. 14 Kentucky and Texas A&M atop the SEC at 2-0.
“It builds confidence,” Thornton said. “You see a lot of teams that are doing well, that have consistently done well, that consistently go out and have confidence every single day and that’s half the battle if you can believe in yourself before you step on the floor. It’s showing us that we can play with anybody.”
Georgia played its best game of the season in knocking off Missouri days after Fox’s father died in Kansas.
Georgia mustered enough to notch another SEC win Saturday, giving the Bulldogs wins over teams ranked No. 50 and 104 in the NCAA’s official RPI in a span of four days.
Gaines sank four 3-pointers — all in the first half — as the Bulldogs opened a 34-23 halftime lead behind 16 from Gaines.
“It was going in so I just figured I’d keep letting it fly,” Gaines said.
He said it was probably his best start since he was a sophomore in high school.
“Gaines stepped up and made some shots that we had not really seen out of him,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “We knew he would be aggressive, but for him to make four 3s against a zone hurt.”
Guard Trever Releford, who entered averaging 18.3 points, finished with a team-high 17 for Alabama, but he was held scoreless until he scored on an inbounds play with 27 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Bulldogs never could quite shake the Crimson Tide in the second half, pulling as close as 46-43 with 7:35 to go on a Releford layup.
Georgia went 31 of 44 from the free throw line, hitting 11 out of 12 down the stretch at one point to keep the Crimson Tide at bay despite being tested by an Alabama press that contributed to nine second-half turnovers.
Georgia will try to make it three in a row Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Florida on ESPNU.
“We’ve got to keep moving forward and keep trying to get better,” Fox said, “because we can really improve as a team.”
Notes: The win was the 500th SEC win in Georgia program history. The Bulldogs are now 500-732 all-time. … Georgia is 8-0 when outrebounding an opponent. … Forward Nemanja Djurisic was held to three points on 0 of 7 shooting. He had led Georgia in scoring in all seven of their previous wins. … Mann went 13 of 17 from the foul line. “I want to make them all,” Mann said. “I’ll be in the gym later on tonight shooting more.”