ATHENS — Now that the Georgia basketball team has accomplished the unbelievable, they are ready to tackle the impossible.
"Nothing would be greater than to go out winning the NCAA championship," senior Sundiata Gaines said Tuesday.
Georgia (17-16), a No. 14 seed, opens the tournament against third-seeded Xavier Thursday afternoon in Washington, D.C.
Georgia, 4-12 in the Southeastern Conference during the regular season, won four straight games in the SEC tournament, including two in one day Saturday, to earn an automatic berth in the NCAAs.
"We are a sleeper team," said Gaines, MVP of the conference tournament. "Anything is possible in the NCAAs. Don’t be surprised if we are there at the end."
Winning a rare day-night doubleheader has Georgia believing it can accomplish anything. A week ago, Georgia had lost 11 of its last 13 and was headed nowhere.
I won’t say that basketball was not fun," said Gaines of that stretch of misery. "We were not getting blown out. We lost a lot of tough games."
"At some point it might have become hard, but it never stopped being fun," said forward Terrance Woodbury, named to the SEC all-tournament team. Senior Dave Bliss agreed. "I had fun every game I ever played. You have to keep it all in perspective. You are playing Division 1 college basketball."
Bliss called winning the conference tournament "a very rewarding experience. I had struggled through a lot."
Bliss and Gaines have endured a healthy dose of adversity through the years. They joined a program in chaos after the dismissal of Jim Harrick as coach.
This season was seemingly derailed before it started when returning starters Takais Brown and Mike Mercer were dismissed. Later, center Rashad Singleton quit after his playing time diminished. Injuries cut into the promising freshman seasons of Jeremy Jacob and Chris Barnes.
The biggest blow came two years ago when teammate Kevin Brophy was killed in a one-car accident. The team dedicated last season to Brophy, wearing Do It for Broph patches.
Even without an orchestrated remembrance this year, the veterans continued to remember Brophy. "I feel like he has been in our hearts and minds all year," said Woodbury. "We wanted to play hard for the seniors, and he would have been a senior this year."
"It was a little different because the young guys had never played with him," Bliss said.
The players believe they will be ready to play Xavier, given the short recovery time. They did not return to Athens until after midnight Sunday. With Georgia’s stringent class attendance rules, no one slept in Monday.
"I got five hours of sleep. I had a study hall at 7 a.m.," Gaines said. "I had a test today before practice."
Bliss, already an honors graduate, is pursuing a second bachelors degree in real estate. He was able to sleep until 9. "Sunday night, I didn’t do anything," he said. "I went straight to bed."
The improbability of the accomplishment of making the NCAA tournament will not be a distraction, Woodbury said. "Regardless of what we do we will play hard," he said.