Originally created 01/19/98

A clue, a clue, their kingdom for a clue



ATHENS, Ga. -- Sometime in the final minute, as South Carolina continued its endless parade to the foul line, as what few home fans remained raced for the exits, some leather-lunged kid in the Georgia student section shared his feelings with the group.

"Come on, Ron," he bellowed late Sunday afternoon at Stegeman Coliseum, "get a (bleepin') clue!"

His target did not respond.

Instead, Ron Jirsa, the first-year head coach of the Bulldogs, kept standing impassively along the home sideline, arms folded, silently watching garbage time through faraway eyes. At that very moment, he was college basketball's answer to Alicia Silverstone.

Clueless.

Jirsa doesn't need some zit-faced kid to remind him of the obvious. If he had a clue what to do about his reeling basketball team, he would try it. But right about now he's fresh out of answers and ideas.

Sunday's 68-60 loss to the 17th-ranked Gamecocks extended Georgia's misery. The Bulldogs haven't won since Christmas. At 0-4 they're off to their worst Southeastern Conference start in 21 years. At 8-8, they've now lost four straight and six of their last seven.

What's more, USC won in Athens for the first time in 37 years, having gone 0-8 in that span.

Georgia's reward for all this suffering? Trips to Starkville and Baton Rouge that could leave them all but NIT-bound by week's end.

"This is the real deal now, this is the challenge for the players," Jirsa, even more subdued than usual, said afterward. "We have to as a team learn to believe we can win. I don't know if we really believed it in the second half. We were hoping rather than playing. You can't do that."

Such passivity explains how the Bulldogs took an eminently winnable game and flushed it.

Hoping instead of playing will make you miss 13 of your last 15 shots from the field, including a meaningless follow shot at the end.

"They weren't really focused on offense," said USC wing Antonio Grant, a North Augusta product. "They were getting nervous and not really taking good shots. Everything they did was kind of rushed."

Hoping instead of playing will let the enemy grab nine offensive rebounds in the second half. That's half of all rebounds at USC's end after intermission. The two biggest came on a marathon possession right out of the Bill Parcells playbook.

It started after Jumaine Jones' free throw pulled Georgia within 60-58 with 2:34 left. The Gamecocks milked the shot clock. Ryan Stack missed a jumper, but Melvin Watson grabbed a floor rebound.

A fresh 35.

BJ McKie missed a jumper from the foul line, but William Gallman came flying out of nowhere to snatch another offensive board.

A fresh 35.

Seconds later Georgia kicked a pass out of bounds, giving USC -- you guessed it -- a fresh 35.

Finally, mercifully, Ray Harrison reached in and put Watson on the line with 1:09 left.

Time of possession: 85 seconds.

Effect of possession: complete frustration of a team already teetering on the emotional brink.

`We had a smaller team in there and we went into a zone," Jirsa said. "They couldn't score against our zone, but we couldn't rebound either. Those two offensive rebounds were pretty much the difference. We couldn't get the basketball back."

The question now is whether Georgia will ever get its confidence back. After consecutive 20-win seasons the past two years, the Bulldogs are threatening to revert to the numbing mediocrity of the Hugh Durham daze. After clawing past Georgia Tech for Peach State hoops superiority, they're now in danger of handing back those hard-won gains.

"This is reality," G.G. Smith said, echoing his coach. "This is going to show where our team really stands."

Right now, that would be last in the SEC East. Reality bites.