Tourney to remember (cont.)
Posted: Sunday March 16, 2008 12:37AM; Updated: Sunday March 16, 2008 11:03AM
The most interesting sight of the bizarre evening was after they informed Georgia and Kentucky there would be no second game that night. Kentucky's players gathered their gear from the locker room and walked down a long hall under stands of the dome. Members of the Alabama dance team were eating pizza in the same area. Georgia's band members were packing up their instruments. Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie was talking to referees, Kentucky's cheerleaders were putting on jackets and police officers and yellow-jacketed security personnel came and went. It looked like a SportsCenter commercial, when uniformed sports figures look comically odd when they are away from their area of competition. If the Syracuse Orange happened to walk by, no one would have noticed.
When the decision was made to move the final four games to Georgia Tech and allow just a limited amount of fans into each game, the saga took another bizarre turn. Kentucky fans, who annually take over the SEC tournament, were essentially locked out. Thousands of Big Blue supporters were left to find a sports bar in Atlanta, and watch their team lose its only game to a team with an RPI of 152.
The atmosphere inside Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum resembled a high school jamboree. There was support for both sides, bands, cheerleaders ... and plenty of room to stretch your legs, with attendance around 2,500.
Not that the basketball was high school quality -- far from it. "Gosh, it was great basketball, back and forth, great players making great plays. That was as good a college basketball game as there was in the country right there," said Bruce Pearl, Tennessee's demonstrative coach. Sonny Weems' alley-oop down the stretch was phenomenal for Arkansas, and Tennessee was carving the Razorbacks apart at the other end. Lofton ended up doing the opposite of what he did against South Carolina (no surprise, given the weekend), missing the potential game-winner after shooting lights out all game. The lead changed hands 17 times, including four times in the last two minutes.
And then that game was overshadowed. Georgia jumped out to a 10-2 lead, but Mississippi State recovered and tied things at halftime. Surely, Georgia's legs would give out in the second half, right?
"It was a grind," Bliss said. "We just didn't let [fatigue] become a factor."
Georgia played more zone than usual to conserve energy, and the strategy worked. Mississippi State took a 60-56 lead with 6:56 to play, but Georgia still didn't fold. Down the stretch, Georgia made plays, taking the lead for good on a Humphrey step-back with 1:21 left. A couple defensive stands and some free throws later, and Georgia was celebrating with its fans on Cremins Court. Albert Jackson had enough energy to give the Bulldog mascot a piggy-back ride off the court -- two games or no two games.
"It felt like AAU ball again," said Georgia's Corey Butler. "This weekend has been crazy."
Ahhh, yeah. And it isn't over yet.
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