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Post Thank God for Rashad. For

Thursday February 28, 2002

Thank God for Rashad.

For the second straight game, Rashad Wright hit THE shot when his team was facing a loss. He didn’t just hit the last shot, he hit the last two. Down 67-65, Wright drove into the lane and hit an off-balance shot to tie the game at 67. And then the three-pointer – it was everything you don’t want in a shot. It was a leaner, he wasn’t squared to the basket, it was in traffic – and he swished it.

Wright carried the team in the first half. The offense was very slow getting going, and it was only foul shots and a burst of points from Wright that kept the Dawgs in the game. When the Dawgs decided to become more active on the defensive end, the offense finally woke up. There were some great extra passes to find the open man, and the Dawgs had a 27-6 run to close the first half.

The offense in the second half was rough. Had Rashad’s prayer been off-center, we’d be focused squarely on a 23-point second half. Around the eight-minute timeout, the Dawgs led 62-57. Until Wright’s flurry of five points in the final minute, the Dawgs had managed only three points in the meantime.

In those points, we find the stories of this season: first, there are the problems of depth and inconsistency we knew about from the beginning. The quality of competition is excellent in the SEC this year, and teams from Auburn to LSU to Vandy have found ways to scare if not outright beat Georgia. The Dawgs are far from invincible. At the same time, we have seen the moments of individual and collective excellence that show the progression of this team from “gutsy” (used to patronizingly describe a 10-20 team in 2000 which played well but usually came up short) to “dangerous” (used last season when the Dawgs played any and all comers and won their share) to the verge of being called…..”champions”. Yes, if the Dawgs can follow through and beat Tennessee, they will at worst be co-champions of the SEC East.

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