Georgia has gone from a team playing with fear to one playing with purpose, coach Dennis Felton said.
Felton, who replaced offensive-minded Jim Harrick with a system based on defense and hustle, brought a style of play to which the personnel-depleted Bulldogs weren't familiar.
"I think they were afraid they couldn't do it and sustain it," Felton said. "They had to play almost all of the game. But they were stubborn and they pushed and had an opportunity to find out they can do it."
Georgia (14-10, 6-7 Southeastern Conference), which lost five of its first six conference games, looks to extend its winning streak to a season-high four games at South Carolina (20-7, 7-6) tonight.
The Bulldogs have climbed out of last place in the SEC East and have put themselves in contention for a No. 2 seed in March's SEC tournament in Atlanta and an NCAA Tournament bid.
"They're playing with a cause," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "They were down early and have hung in there. That's a tribute to everyone."
Without a natural scorer, Georgia has turned its season around with defense. The Bulldogs were last in the SEC in scoring defense (70.5 points per game) when the Gamecocks beat them 84-63 on Jan. 10.
Since then, Georgia has moved into a tie for seventh in the conference at 65.6 points per game. The Bulldogs have allowed more than 65 points just twice in the past 11 games.
"We started getting used to (the system)," said Chris Daniels, who leads the team with 31 blocked shots and 8.4 rebounds per game. "It's been a real big adjustment, but we've started getting more and more accustomed to it."
After starting the season 18-2, South Carolina has slipped. The Gamecocks have lost five of their past seven games and fell out of both top 25 polls this week.
"I haven't seen a team not playing hard vs. they way they looked early," Felton said. "The numbers don't indicate everything. The other team had something to say about it, too."
Felton is "positive" Georgia will make the NCAA field with an 8-8 conference record. To do that, Georgia must win two of its next three games, two of which are on the road.
Georgia has just one road victory this season, and its past three wins have come at home.
"We've got to keep our intensity and aggressiveness that we've had at home and carry it to the road," point guard Rashad Wright said. "It's always tough on the road. We've got to come out and play hard and do what we need to do."
That road win, a 65-57 upset at then-No. 5 Kentucky on Jan. 17, came after the Bulldogs' first off week. Georgia is coming off its final bye week and has had seven days and four practices to prepare for the Gamecocks.
The time off has provided rest for a team that plays its starting lineup more than any team in the league.
"Rest is the biggest thing for us," Daniels said. "We got a chance to rest both mentally and physically."
Said Felton:"We shouldn't be a fatigued team by any means. Since we found some consistency, I think we've played with the same kind of intensity, no matter where we've played."
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