ATLANTA–Mark Fox returned to his team’s Georgia Dome locker room early Saturday morning after his postgame news conference.
Most of his Georgia players had already headed for the bus to the team hotel after the 75-73 SEC tournament quarterfinal victory against Ole Miss, but Fox reminded those lingering they needed to get going because another game was only “13 or 14 hours away.”
Georgia is one of the last four standing at the SEC tournament.
The Bulldogs (19-12) have won nine of their last 11 and now can put their season of progress to the test at about 3:30 p.m. today against powerhouse Kentucky, which is unranked but still stocked with talent.
The last time they met on Jan. 25 things didn’t go so well for Georgia.
Kentucky pounded Georgia that day in Rupp Arena, 79-54.
Kenny Gaines, the Bulldogs’ top scorer in SEC play, was missing with a deep thigh bruise and backup shooting guard Juwan Parker was out with a strained hamstring.
“We weren’t healthy,” guard Charles Mann said. “It was hard. They kind of wore me down. I was pretty much the only guard really. It’s going to be a different game.”
Fox was playing with a makeshift lineup.
“We just glued the team together up there,” Fox said after the Ole Miss win. “We started Marcus Thornton tonight at center and we started him as a two-guard. We had to sit in a zone and we ran about two or three different things because that’s all we could glue together with the injuries. We’ll have more options available but we’ll have to play terrific to have a chance to win.”
Kentucky eliminated LSU, 85-67, earlier Friday before another huge Wildcat following in Atlanta.
Almost everywhere you looked during the first game, there was blue.
“It was amazing,” Wildcats guard Andrew Harrison said. “It felt like a home game.”
The Wildcats needed to find their “mojo,” coach John Calipari said after his team ended the regular season by dropping three out of four and falling out of the national polls this week
Georgia had a respectable fan showing Friday night, but nothing close to what Kentucky brought.
“I could feel the energy in the building,” Fox said of Georgia fans.
Fox said earlier this week he was “sick of hearing about Catlanta.”
He’ll hear plenty from Wildcat fans Saturday.
“I’m going to wear a blue tie,” he joked. “It shouldn’t be a neutral atmosphere. It should be two teams and two fan bases fighting for their kids. That’s what college athletics is all about.”
The earlier semifinal at 1 p.m. matches top-seed and top-ranked Florida and No. 4 seed Tennessee.
Georgia gets a spot at the table for the nationally televised games on ABC.
The Bulldogs need at least one and probably two more wins to get an NCAA tournament bid.
Mann said he was looking forward to facing the Wildcats.
“We’ll be ready,” the sophomore guard said. “We didn’t have a full team back then, but now we’re healthy. We’ve got the full team so hopefully the outcome will be different. It’s going to be a hard-fought battle. It’s not going to be like it was last game.”