Originally created 02/03/01

Bulldogs' SEC East lead is in jeopardy



Late in Wednesday's costly loss to Kentucky, it occurred to Georgia coach Jim Harrick that he made a mistake.

Instead of giving his players a break after a draining double-overtime triumph over Tennessee four days earlier, Harrick kept his foot on the pedal.

And the Bulldogs, up 10 on the Wildcats with 16:58 left, ran out of gas and absorbed an 85-70 lashing that snapped their six-game winning streak.

"Maybe I made a mistake," Harrick said. "I didn't give our guys two days off after that game. I was worried about our emotion and our fatigue."

There's not much time to recover for the No. 25 Bulldogs, who play host to red-hot Florida today at Stegeman Coliseum (5 p.m., Fox Sports Net). The No. 13 Gators (14-4, 4-3 SEC) have won three straight and appear poised to do some damage in the Southeastern Conference after surviving a bout with injuries.

Harrick said he doesn't place extraordinary importance on today's tilt, but the implications are clear:

If Florida leaves Athens, Ga., with a victory and Kentucky wins at South Carolina, the Bulldogs (13-8, 6-2) would squander their half-game lead atop the SEC East to the Wildcats (12-7, 5-2).

The 1«-game lead they enjoyed days ago will have vanished, and reclaiming it wouldn't be easy. The Bulldogs play at South Carolina next Wednesday and travel to No. 17 Alabama on Feb. 10. So you can understand why Harrick isn't willing to build today's game to monumental proportions.

"I'm not going to put any one game on more of a magnitude more than another, although we are competing with Florida," Harrick said. "Night in and night out, I don't know that anybody else will win six straight in this league."

South Carolina appeared a legitimate candidate to lose six straight before Wednesday's 68-56 win at Louisiana State snapped a two-game losing skid.

But like Georgia, the Gamecocks (11-7, 3-4 SEC) didn't have much time to reflect. Their NCAA Tournament hopes are remote at best, and they'll need to win six of their last nine games and make a solid run in the SEC Tournament to help their cause.

Kentucky's recent play makes today's game (1 p.m., Ch. 26) something less than a gimme for Gamecocks. The Wildcats looked dominating Wednesday at Georgia, thanks largely to splendid performances from guard Keith Bogans (26 points, 11 rebounds) and Tayshaun Prince (23 points, 10 rebounds).

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said the biggest task after such a big win is keeping his team's focus.

"We've had that problem this year with such a young team," said Smith, whose team has won eight straight over the Gamecocks and beat them 69-63 on Jan. 10.

Georgia Tech won't have any problem directing its attention to today's trip to North Carolina (4 p.m., UPN 16). The No. 4 Tar Heels are coming off Thursday's mammoth 85-83 upset at No. 2 Duke, clinched when center Brendan Haywood sank two free throws with 1.2 seconds left to silence Cameron Indoor Stadium.

In the teams' last meeting, Kris Lang had 18 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Tar Heels to an 84-70 win in Atlanta on Jan. 2.

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larrywill7@yahoo.com