NCAA men's notebook

Perfect storm: No denying Bulldogs

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Associated Press / March 18, 2008

Dennis Felton had nothing to say yesterday, which was certainly understandable.

No one could blame the Georgia coach for being speechless about his team's improbable, inspiring, unprecedented run through the Southeastern Conference's tornado tournament.

Actually, though, Felton's silent treatment wasn't by choice. After prodding and cajoling the Bulldogs to heights no one could have imagined just four days earlier, he finally gave out.

"He has no voice, not even a little growl," assistant coach Pete Herrmann said. "He's trying to get that back."

Better hurry, coach. There's another game to play Thursday.

Georgia (17-16) is heading to the NCAAs for the first time since 2002, a seemingly lost season turned upside down when the Bulldogs won the SEC tournament and an automatic bid.

To call it a miracle might be a bit of a stretch. But not by much.

"You're talking about one of the more incredible stories in college basketball this season, maybe the best," Florida coach Billy Donovan marveled. "Their story is the kind of thing you talk about when you go out to give motivational speeches, when you have a mountain to climb and don't think you can climb it. The mountain they climbed as a program, as a team, is truly remarkable."

After winning only four SEC games during the regular season, the Bulldogs matched that total during four thrilling, frightening, frustrating, and ultimately glorious days in Atlanta.

They won their first game on a shot that dropped with less than a second to go in overtime. Then, while waiting to play the following night, a tornado ripped through the Georgia Dome on its destructive march through downtown Atlanta. The game was postponed and the tournament hastily moved to a much-smaller coliseum at nearby Georgia Tech. Much to Felton's chagrin, the SEC drew up a new schedule that had one team playing a doubleheader Saturday. That turned out to be Georgia, which beat Kentucky for the first time ever in the conference tournament, again going to OT. The Bulldogs snuck in a nap, then returned six hours later to knock off Mississippi State. Georgia avoided regular-season champ Tennessee in the final but got NCAA-bound Arkansas.

Playing their third game in less than 28 hours, the Bulldogs raced out to an early 19-point lead and held on to win the conference tourney for the first time since 1983.

Yesterday, more tidbits from the amazing weekend emerged.

The team's regular bus driver came down with a severe case of the flu before the title game, forcing the school to call in a replacement. When the Bulldogs arrived at the arena, the fill-in driver ordered everyone to take their luggage because he had other stops to make.

"We're talking about going in to play in the SEC finals, and he's telling us, 'I've got to go get the track team, I've got to get the baseball team. Get that stuff off of here,' " Herrmann said, able to laugh about it now. "Here we are, on this tremendous run, and we've got to get all our luggage off the bus and leave it in the parking lot at Georgia Tech."

Next up is third-seeded Xavier.

"They never stopped believing in themselves," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "That was no smoke and mirrors. They were better on four nights than all four teams they played against."

Kid stuff

Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo have no intention of playing for one-and-done teams in the NCAA Tournament. Their college futures may be another matter.

Many of the nation's top freshmen, including Beasley of Kansas State and Mayo of Southern Cal, are expected to make this year's tourney their final college basketball showcase before heading to the NBA.

Among those expected to join those two in June's draft are Eric Gordon of Indiana, Derrick Rose of Memphis, and possibly Kevin Love of UCLA and Jerryd Bayless of Arizona.

How good are these fabulous freshmen? Consider the numbers:

Beasley, Gordon, Mayo, and Bayless were among the nation's top 37 scorers.

Beasley and Love finished among the nation's top 11 rebounders.

Beasley, Gordon, Love, and Rose were freshman of the year in their respective conferences, while Mayo was a first-team all-Pac 10 choice and Bayless made the second team.

No. 1, again

North Carolina, the overall No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament, finished No. 1 in the Associated Press's final poll of the season. It was the sixth time, and first since 1998, the Tar Heels (32-2) led the final rankings. UCLA and Kentucky have finished No. 1 in the final poll eight times and Duke seven. Memphis, UCLA, and Kansas, the other No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, were second through fourth and were the only other schools to receive first-place votes. Connecticut was 16th . . . Indiana announced that Harry Gonso, an attorney and former Hoosier quarterback, will lead a 10-member committee to search for a replacement for coach Kelvin Sampson, who was forced to resign last month amid allegations of NCAA violations. Dan Dakich, an assistant under Sampson and a former Indiana player and assistant under Bob Knight, took over as interim coach for the rest of the season.

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