Last night the Georgia Bulldogs beat the #22 ranked Auburn Tigers 76-64 at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens. It marked UGA’s first win in an SEC opener since 2015, and it was Georgia’s first victory over a ranked opponent since February of 2020.
Here’s the thing… Nothing about UGA’s win over the defending SEC Champions was fluky. The Bulldogs led throughout and shot 45.3% from the field including 40% from three-point range. The Tigers took the lead by a point early, but Georgia controlled the game and went into halftime with an 8 point lead. The Dawgs and Tigers both had 11 turnovers.
Mike White’s first season was already exceeding expectations before last night’s win. Georgia entered the game 10-3 after winning 7 of its last 8 games. The Bulldogs were a tough late charge call away from beating Georgia Tech and had beaten Notre Dame handily in Phillips Arena a week before Christmas.
Perhaps most importantly, Georgia hasn’t lost to any inferior opponents. The UAB team the Bulldogs suffered its worst loss to (87-73 at the Sunshine Slam tournament in Daytona Beach) won C-USA last year and was a 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual Elite Eight participant Houston. The Bulldogs lost by 10 to Wake Forest in their second game of the season in Winston-Salem, but the Deacs have a win over Duke on their resume and are a Top 100 team in the Net Rankings. The Blazers are 58th.
Georgia had been in some close games in its non-conference slate. Unlike in years past, the Bulldogs didn’t fall to any bottom feeders. It’s hard to overstate how big of a deal that is for a program coming off of a 6-26 season.
Mike White showed up in Athens with little to no fanfare nationally. Some observers went so far as to question the hire. On the whole the move was met with the same apathy that has surrounded Georgia Basketball for the last decade. Florida fans on social media openly celebrated White’s exit, but I tweeted at the time that UGA AD Josh Brooks was the only SEC administrator who hired a coach that had taken a Power 5 program to 4 straight NCAA Tournaments and an Elite Eight on his resume. White also came with five seasons of valuable SEC experience.
With a roster that had some additions via the transfer portal but much of the core from the disastrous 2022 team that finally sent Tom Crean back into retirement, expectations were reasonably low for White’s first campaign. If Georgia could win a few conference games and go above .500 it would be a very solid step in the right direction. Entering league play at 10-3 with wins over solid programs like St Joseph’s, Notre Dame, and Chattanooga meant White’s first team had already exceeded expectations.
Kario Oquendo was the bright spot of last year’s group. He and transfer PG Terry Roberts are averaging over 14 points a game. In Braelen Bridges the Bulldogs have their first true post presence in years. A deep bench give UGA a roster that goes ten men deep with guys who know their roles.
Regardless of the scores and stats, this group of Bulldogs was already refreshing. They have been winning as a team. They rebound with effort and tenacity. They dive on the floor for loose balls. They pass up good shots for great ones. They fly around on defense. Unlike Crean’s teams, they do all of the things that don’t require talent and they do them with urgency. White has done a full makeover to the program’s culture.
Last night’s win over Auburn showed that the Bulldogs are ready to compete now. They handled every run by the Tigers with poise. Auburn cut the lead to 4 at the 7:28 mark. That was the spot where past Georgia teams would have lost control of the game and you could feel the crowd getting nervous. Instead the Dawgs responded with a 9-0 run over 1:27 to take a 66-53 lead on last year’s conference winners. Georgia looked like they’d been there before even if they hadn't.
Just as significant as what happened on the court is what went on in the stands. Stegeman Coliseum was rocking and nearly full despite the students still being on break. The crowd urged Georgia on every step of the way, and wins like this one will only lead to better attendance. The Dawgs are now 9-0 at home this season.
We may look back at UGA’s win over Auburn as the signal that the Dawgs are ready to compete for a postseason invitation in 2022. It could also end up being a good moment in a season that marks Georgia’s return to competitiveness. We’ll find out more when the Bulldogs head to Gainesville on Saturday for White’s return to Florida.
What is certain is that UGA is playing good basketball and improving noticeably almost every time they hit the hardwood. For the first time in a long time, a Bulldog team is fun to watch and on the rise.
Georgia Basketball is open for business, and the product is worth your attention.