Monday, April 8, 2013

The 1983 Georgia Bulldogs: Making the most of their first

               1983 East Regional champion and Final Four participant Georgia Bulldogs

This year's NCAA tournament marks the 30th anniversary of one of the more improbable and surprising runs in tournament history, the 1982-1983 Georgia Bulldogs. Not only did the Bulldogs make it to the Final Four in Albuquerque but they did so in their first trip to the NCAA tournament. This was quite an accomplishment considering Georgia first started playing basketball in 1906. In fairness to Georgia's seemingly long wait to participate in 'the Big Dance', until the 1974-1975 season only one team from a conference was allowed to participate in the NCAA tournament. In the 1970's in particular this denied some excellent teams from participating in the tourney such as Southern Cal's 1970-1971 squad that went 24-2 losing both games to eventual National Champion UCLA, and the 1974 23-5 Maryland Terrapins ESPN's poster child for teams with great marks who couldn't go due to the rules at the time. The SEC also produced some outstanding teams in the early 1970's that didn't make the NCAA tournament with the 1972 Tennessee Vols tying Kentucky with a 14-4 conference mark but being swept by the Wildcats and the 1974 Alabama Crimson Tide tying Vanderbilt for the league title but being swept by the Commodores.

With that said, Georgia didn't field any squads prior to 1975 that were highly regarded and maybe a handful would have been considered an NCAA team even with today's standards. If anything perhaps Georgia had a few teams that probably would have made the NIT in today's format with multiple teams from a conference making the NCAA tournament. Still in the SEC where football was and remains king, Georgia wasn't alone in this regard and certainly more than pulled its weight in football. Kentucky's historic blitzkrieg through the SEC from the early 1940's through 1974 (the last year only one team from a conference could go to the tourney) kept several SEC teams out of the NCAA's. Only LSU and Vanderbilt participated in more than one NCAA tournament during this period. Tennessee, Mississippi State and former member Georgia Tech each played in one NCAA tourney as the SEC's representative. Alabama became the SEC's first "at large" team in 1975 when again they shared the title ,this time with Kentucky as the Wildcats swept the Tide.

The Bulldogs weren't really too different from everyone besides Kentucky ,at least until the 1950's when LSU,Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Alabama started putting more emphasis on the sport. At least Georgia put on a front that basketball mattered in Athens. Fellow "football first" Ole Miss as late as 1968 made headlines, almost by design the way the Rebels handled it,by announcing during the old SEC football "sky writers tour" in September that head basketball coach Eddie Crawford had been promoted to head freshman football coach.While prior to the mid 1960's , Georgia, as well as other league schools would often have a head coach in either basketball or football also be a football assistant. And, from time to time Georgia did indeed have some shining moments prior to 1983.

Oddly enough in the penultimate year of the original members of the SEC departing the Southern Conference for the new league Georgia won the 23 member conference tournament downing North Carolina, 26-24.This was done under new coach Rex Enright, who went on to more notoriety as South Carolina's football coach in the 1940's. The path had been paved by the "father of Georgia basketball" Herman Stegeman, the man whom Georgia's present basketball facility is named.Stegeman arrived in Athens from Chicago where he had been an assistant under the great Amos Alonzo Stagg in both football and basketball.Hired in the fall of 1919 as an assistant football coach and head basketball and baseball coach, he became head coach of all three in 1920 when head football coach W.A. Cunningham was called back to the Army.

                 Stegeman and his first Georgia Wildcats basketball squad in 1919-1920

Oddly enough, one team Georgia didn't play in Stegeman's first year as coach in basketball or as an assistant in football was none other than the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. In the Spring of 1919, at least in the Peach State, college baseball was as popular as college football (basketball had aways to go). The two had not met in football in 1917 and 1918 as Georgia didn't field a football team during WWI. But Georgia was going to play again in 1919 and the two met in baseball in May with parades after a series in Athens and Atlanta. A float by the Georgia student body with a banner over a tank proclaiming "1917-1918 Georgia in France" and one behind it over a Model-T "1917-1918 Tech in 'Lanta". The insinuation was the Athens institution was full of patriotism while Tech was not. Georgia Tech officials were livid and demanded an apology or risk not playing Georgia in athletics. Georgia refused to apologize and said a termination of playing one another was fine with them. This incident dominated the Atlanta and Athens newspapers and the two did indeed not play in football and only in basketball and baseball and other sports in Southern Conference tournaments.(A game in the 1923 Southern Conference Tournament in Atlanta drew an incredible 8,000 for Tech's 27-22 upset win.) The proverbial "cooler heads" did prevail and in 1924 the two resumed scheduled sporting events between the Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs which became Georgia's nickname during the 1920 season.

Once the SEC started up in the 1932-1933, Georgia basketball began a path to mediocrity at best. Again there were moments in the sun as Kentucky started its blitzkrieg through the SEC with Adolph Rupp's Wildcats.Georgia did play Kentucky in the 1940 SEC Title game, losing 51-43 in Knoxville.

   Game program for 1940 SEC Tournament where the Bulldogs finished runner up to Kentucky

Elmer Lampe, who led the Bulldogs to the 1940 SEC title game, left for Dartmouth in 1946 as Osbourne Cowles who had led the Big Green to the 1942 NCAA title game and had his charges in the '44 title game while he was called back up to the Navy in WWII took the Michigan head coach's job. Like Georgia, Dartmouth, which at that time still competed in basketball and football as a major program, had its head basketball coach also coach football as an assistant. As fate would have it the coach who stepped in for Cowles during his service during the war and led Dartmouth to the NCAA title game was Earl Brown.Brown left Hanover after one year and then went to Canisius where he coached basketball and football before being named Auburn's head football coach in 1948.

Earl Brown's departure as Dartmouth head basketball coach would lead to several coaching moves (mainly in football) at SEC schools in the late 1940's and 1950's

This innocently set off an unintended chain reaction that impacted several SEC schools over the next several years. After Lampe left Georgia for Dartmouth, Bulldog AD and head football coach Wally Butts hired Ralph "Shug" Jordan after one year as an assistant coach for the Miami Seahawks of the All-American Football League, a brief rival to the NFL. Jordan would become the Bulldogs' head basketball coach and assistant football coach, positions he had previously held at his alma mater, Auburn before leaving after '46 season for the Miami job.

Jordan would have modest success in his three plus years as the Bulldogs' head basketball coach compiling a 44-39 mark. Once again football trumped basketball. Butts' top assistant coach Jennings "Ears" Whitworth was hired away to be Oklahoma State's head football coach after the conclusion of the 1949 season. That meant that just six games into the 1949-1950 basketball campaign, Jordan was elevated to top football assistant leaving him no time for basketball and was replaced by Jim Whatley,who was Ole Miss' head basketball coach and assistant football coach leaving the Rebels with an immediate search for a new basketball coach already into the '49-'50 season where they hired Bonnie Graham,who had been an All-American at Ole Miss in the late '40's.

Shug Jordan knew as long as he wasn't at Kentucky, football was going to be top dog at whatever SEC school he was at. That didn't mean he didn't try to field teams that could compete in the conference. In fact, Whatley inherited a team already 4-2 which included a top-flight recruit of Jordan's from Jacksonville, Georgia's first "big man" 6'-8" junior Bob Schloss. Schloss and captain Bob Healey provided the Georgia faithful with one of their biggest wins certainly in basketball and probably only rivaling the 1943 Rose Bowl overall early in Whatley's tenure.Kentucky, ranked #2 and defending NCAA champion in 1949 and 1948 was regarded as solid pick to either repeat, or win the more prestigious NIT title. Either way Kentucky wasn't expected to have much trouble with Georgia. Georgia never trailed in the game going up 8-2 then 15-5 and taking a 39-31 lead into halftime. UK scored the first 7 points of the second to cut it to one. But Georgia recovered and stretched the lead back out and pulled away to a 71-60 win , their first over UK in 20 yrs and only Kentucky's second SEC loss in five years. Schloss had 28 points himself while Kentucky's seven footer, Bill Spivey only had 8.Georgia's Healey had 13.
Georgia captain Bob Healey (6) scoring 2 of his 13 points in Georgia's 71-60 upset of Kentucky

The 1949-1950 season with coaches Jordan and Whatley finished 15-9.Whatley would coach basketball at Georgia one more year before once again a series of football events took place.First, Earl Brown the former Dartmouth basketball coach was dismissed from Auburn after an 0-10 mark in 1950 which came as a shock to Brown who decried Auburn as a "coach's graveyard" and bemoaned a lack of support. Considering Brown was 3-22-4 as Auburn's head coach, the only thing "shocking" in this decision was it came in mid-February in 1951 and not immediately following Alabama's 34-0 pounding in early December. Auburn turned to alum Shug Jordan to be head football coach this time. Once again Wally Butts' top assistant left for head coaching job and Whatley gave up basketball after the 1950-1951 season to be Butts' top assistant as well as head baseball coach, a position he held until 1975.
(Jordan also coached through the 1975 season winning a National title in 1957 securing it in a win over Ears Whitworth and Alabama after the Tide hired Withworth away from Oklahoma State in 1955 leading to the Tide hiring Bear Bryant after Alabama's loss to Auburn.)

Georgia's basketball team was then led by another football assistant coach, Harbin "Red" Lawson. Lawson led the Bulldogs from 1952 through the 1965 season in what would be a career best described as "he did the best he could." Georgia didn't produce a winning season during his 14 year career coming close at 12-13 in 1959-1960. But even without a winning record, nor winning season, Lawson's squads did provide some good basketball and exciting moments at times.

Under Lawson, the Bulldogs' produced their first All-American basketball players who also had one of the most colorful names in SEC history, Anthony "Zippy" Morocco. Morocco was the son of immigrants who migrated to Youngstown,Ohio. A two sport star, Morocco signed to play football with Georgia following another Bulldog star from Youngstown, 1942 Heisman Trophy winner Frankie Sinkwich. Morocco returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown vs Furman and also ran a punt back 65 yards against Texas A&M for a touchdown as well as scoring on a 30 yard run in the one and only "Presidential Cup" following the 1950 season at Maryland's Byrd Field in College Park.

In addition to being Georgia's first All-American in basketball, Zippy Morocco also scored two touchdowns against Texas A& M in the one and only Presidential Cup

Morocco etched his name into Bulldog folklore against Tennessee in Knoxville after a dramatic 87-86 win over the Volunteers in his senior year in 1953. In the penultimate game of the year, a win by the Vols would have kept them in contention for runner-up in the SEC, a noble distinction as Kentucky reigned terror in the league. But behind Morocco's 38 points, the Bulldogs secured only their third league win. Morocco also hit the game winner, and incredible two-handed set shot from half court that swished through the net with only :10 in the game. Morocco's offensive outburst gave him the then SEC record for points in one season at 560 surpassing Kentucky All-American Cliff Hagan's 540 in 1952.

Georgia also hit rock bottom in 1956 against Kentucky losing 143-66 a 77 point pasting that remains and hopefully will stay as the Bulldogs' worst ever loss. It probably could have been worse as UK played 14 different players and had six in double figures and led by 43 at halftime.Contributing to Georgia's woes was an outdated ,poorly maintained home facility that was behind the times even in the mid 1950's. Built in 1923 Woodruff Hall , seating only 4,000 was more suited for intramurals or tractor pulls by the mid 1950's. Adolph Rupp said Woodruff Hall was the only gym in the SEC where you had to account for the wind when shooting. It wasn't uncommon to see red and black buckets throughout the facility collecting water from leaks during and after rainstorms.

            Woodruff Hall, where Georgia played basketball from 1923 through 1964

In 1962 Georgia officials broke ground on a state of the art facility which the Bulldogs still use, Stegeman Coliseum , originally named simply "Georgia Coliseum." In fact the Bulldogs became only the second SEC institution to host the NCAA tournament by staging the 1971 Mideast Regional in Athens. Only Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum had played host to an NCAA basketball tournament game prior to this. Athens and Georgia helped produce one of the wildest, most colorful regionals, certainly of the four in 1971 with Western Kentucky hammering Bluegrass behemoth Kentucky 107-83 and Ohio State edging unbeaten Marquette, 60-59. Western Kentucky edged Ohio State in overtime two days later to advance to the Final Four.

Western Kentucky's Jim McDaniels (L)scores over Ohio State's Luke Witte in the 1971 Mideast Regional played at Georgia.Witte would be involved in an awful brawl with Minnesota players and spectators the following year in Minneapolis

But not Al McGurie and Marquette, Adolph Rupp and Kentucky nor anyone else could , or has, outdrawn Georgia Tech vs Georgia. The dedicating game was in February of 1964 and in front of 13,200 (the arena's official capacity at the time was only 11,400, now 10,523) the Georgia "Underdogs" upset the favored Yellow Jackets, 81-68 in certainly one of the biggest wins in the Red Harbin era. If that wasn't the biggest win under Harbin, the following season the Bulldogs upset #13 North Carolina, 64-61 in the 1964-1965 season opener. The Bulldogs carried Harbin off the court the way a winning football coach would be lifted up on victorious players' shoulders.

   Opening tip at the 1964 'Georgia Coliseum' dedication between Tech vs Georgia

But after high hopes after the upset win over the Tar Heels, Georgia would only win seven more games finishing the 1964-1965 season at 8-18. Also, poor health forced Harbin to the sidelines where his chief assistant Red Frederick filled in has acting coach. Citing health problems, the likable Harbin resigned after 14 seasons as the Bulldogs' head coach.Athletic Director Joel Eaves who became AD in 1963, had just hired 32 year old Vince Dooley the year before to lead the Bulldogs' football fortunes, went for a young "up and comer" to try to shore up the basketball program. Georgia hired 34 year old Ken Rosemond, a member of North Carolina's 1957 NCAA Championship team and the top assistant under fourth year coach Dean Smith. Rosemond seemed poised to make Georgia a challenger to Kentucky along with Vanderbilt and Tennessee, both of which had made commitments to basketball with coaches and facilities.Eaves, who as Auburn's head basketball coach in 1960 led them to the SEC Championship said of Rosemond that he "can do the job we want done with our basketball program at Georgia."

Georgia didn't hire Dean Smith in 1965, but they did hire his top assistant, Ken Rosemond

Rosemond had solid credentials to make Georgia basketball relevant, but the Bulldogs did struggle in his first two years. They did show a pulse,though with the 1965-1966 Bulldogs losing in double overtime to eventual SEC Champion and National runner-up Kentucky and scoring 97 in a losing cause in Nashville to #5 Vanderbilt.Georgia only won ten games in 1966-1967,but one of those was over Kentucky. Whereas it wasn't one of Adolph Rupp's better squads (in fact,it was his worst), Georgia hadn't beaten the 'Cats since 1950 so it was to be enjoyed. The game was somewhat controversial in that Rosemond utilized a stall, not unlike his mentor Dean Smith's 'Four Corners' but designed to bring UK out of their 1-3-1 zone. This was 20 years before a shotclock and the rules were the team in possession didn't have to penetrate or pass the ball if a team in a zone didn't come out and guard the dribbler. No one told Adolph Rupp what to do, certainly not a second year coach at Georgia of all places, and at halftime Kentucky led 8-6.The second half was more conventional and Georgia had 49-40 win.

Georgia and Rosemond's fortunes started looking up by signing NYC native Bob Lienhard, the first of several New Yorkers as Rosemond opened his own underground railroad to New York like his college coach Frank McGuire had done

By 1967-1968 Rosemond and the Bulldogs seemed to be on track to make Georgia a formidable SEC opponent.Behind 6' 11" sophomore center from the Bronx, Bob Lienhard, Georgia went 17-8 and 11-7 in the SEC. The Bulldogs had their first winning record since 1951 and best overall since 1940. Along the way Georgia defeated #7 Vanderbilt and in maybe the biggest win for Rosemond, Georgia thumped defending SEC champion and #5 Tennessee 61-43 behind Lienhard's 17 points all the while holding UT All-SEC center Tom Boerwinkle to only 7.Georgia basketball became a hot ticket all of the sudden as the Bulldogs averaged 7,560 at home and went 11-2 in Athens.(Of course, as 1967 rolled into 1968, Georgia had a close call off the court. On New Year's Day 1968 after downing Ole Miss 70-64 in Oxford, the Bulldogs bussed to Oxford-University Airport for their flight back to the Peach State.As the sound of the Southern Airways Martin 404 buzzed overhead an announcement was made that the flight was landing.The players gathered to watch the landing. What they saw was the plane crash upon landing and burst into flames. Miraculously none of the three crew members were killed nor even injured.After another night in Oxford it was decided the squad would just bus back to Athens.)

1968 started off on a scary note as the Bulldogs saw their return flight crash upon landing in Oxford after a win over Ole Miss

Georgia did stay above .500 at 13-12 in '68-'69 but they seemed primed to make a run for the SEC title in 1969-1970 or at least a berth in the NIT. Lienhard had made at least second team All-SEC in his first two years and was named second team All-American on a few lists the year before. He set, and still holds, the single game rebound record by grabbing 32 vs Sewanee in '68-69 and averaged 21.3 and 23.8 points in his first two varsity seasons. Unfortunately, Lienhard's years at Georgia were the same as LSU's Pete Maravich's and Kentucky's Dan Issel's. His statistics were incredible but overshadowed by those two primarily with Maravich's individual scoring marks and Issel's all around game plus being a member of the king of SEC basketball.Still, Georgia looked to have a big year with Lienhard and three other New Yorkers rounding out the starting five.

After struggling early after a rugged non-conference schedule, Georgia started the season at 2-5. But things came together and the Bulldogs would nine of ten with the only loss in that frame a heartbreaking 72-71 loss to Kentucky. A win over Vanderbilt gave Georgia an 11-6 overall record and a 9-1 SEC record, which tied Georgia for first with Kentucky. It also put Georgia in the Associated Press top 20 for the first time ever, at 20th.Georgia would now take its first ever ranking on the road for four straight conference games. Upon returning to Athens to face Ole Miss, Georgia was now 9-5 in the SEC,unranked and in third place in the SEC after a blowout loss in Lexington and a two point loss in Baton Rouge to LSU.After such promise, Georgia split its last two games and once again finished 13-12 and 11-7 in the SEC.

Dan Issel (44) and Kentucky ruined Georgia's entry into the AP rankings, SEC title and NCAA hopes as well as NIT hopes after a 30 point blowout win in Lexington in 1970

Georgia fell apart in 1971 with a virtual new lineup and finished 6-19. The bright spot of the season was the emergence of Ronnie Hogue, a sophomore from Washington, D.C. Rosemond had proven he was a fine recruiter, but what made Hogue unique was he was Georgia's first black basketball player.Hogue had a brilliant career in Athens and still holds the school record for single game high with 46 in a win over LSU in the 1971-1972 season where the Bulldogs put together a 14-12 mark.

Ronnie Hogue, Georgia's first black basketball player (1970-1973). Still holds school record for most points in a game with 46 vs LSU in the 1971-1972 season

Rosemond was starting to get some pressure entering the 1972-1973 season. He had indeed made Georgia competitive, but after such a solid season in 1968 and the great start to the 1970 SEC season, mediocrity and apathy had returned to Athens.Once again Georgia played a difficult non-conference schedule but held its own and started the season 10-7. Among the wins was a win over Southern California who would go on to the NIT. Two of the seven losses were to then 4th ranked North Carolina State with David Thompson and Tom Burleson who broke open a close game with 10 minutes left. And 11th ranked Vanderbilt stole one in overtime in Athens 89-86 after Georgia had led by 9 at halftime. A month later the return game in Nashville vs Vanderbilt undid the Bulldogs. With Vandy in the hunt for the SEC title, they played one of their best games of the season burying Georgia, 87-52. Georgia did not win another game and finished the year 10-16. After such high hopes and promise, Rosemond was dismissed.

AD Eaves didn't waste anytime hiring Rosemond's replacement and appeared to hit a homerun. James "Babe" McCarthy who had led Mississippi State to four SEC titles from 1959-1963, resigned as head coach of the ABA's Dallas Chaparrals when late in the season rumors surfaced that the struggling franchise would be sold and moved to New Jersey.McCarthy only wanted to coach in the South and jumped at the opportunity to lead the SEC's other Bulldogs. (Oddly enough the "Chaps" move to New Jersey fell apart and a group of San Antonio businessmen bought the franchise and moved it to San Antonio where they became the Spurs.)

McCarthy was quite a colorful character and seemed to be what the doctor ordered.He'd won everywhere he'd coached including winning a state HS title in his first year at his alma mater Baldwyn, MS. He'd won at State and won ABA coach of the year in 1969 with New Orleans.Unfortunately for Georgia, the ABA's instability wasn't limited to Dallas.New owners of the Kentucky Colonels looked to move the team up to Cincinnati.Under future Kentucky governor and KFC chairman, John Y. Brown was able to keep the Colonels in Louisville but the new ownership caused the GM and the coach, Joe Mullaney to go elsewhere.Brown wanted the Colonels to be more of a fastbreak team where Mullaney didn't feel they had the personnel.

Babe McCarthy(Georgia's coach from Easter to Labor Day) huddles with his ABA Kentucky Colonels during the 1973-1974 season.Even after making the playoffs,McCarthy was fired 

Mullaney left the Colonels in early August so the ABA team had to find a coach in a hurry for the 1973-1974 season.Enter Babe McCarthy. Since leaving Starkville in 1965 he had become quite the journeyman coaching at George Washington, New Orleans in the ABA and following the franchise to Memphis and then the year at Dallas.In early September of 1973 McCarthy told Georgia AD Joel Eaves in a rather heated exchange that he was resigning from Georgia to take the Kentucky Colonels job immediately.

With only five weeks until the start of practice there was little time to spend on any type of national search due to Georgia's mediocre at best history and the time frame. Eaves found his man who was already on the staff, John Guthrie, the one assistant that McCarthy had retained from Ken Rosemond's staff.Guthrie had actually come to Georgia in 1969 from George Washington where he had been an assistant under current Vanderbilt assistant Wayne Dobbs who had spent one year as McCarthy's assistant before replacing him after the "Magnolia Mouth" left for the ABA.

Only 33 at the time of his hiring, Guthrie was no stranger to Georgia. In addition to having been on the UGA staff the last four years, he was a native of Atlanta where he had been a star for suburban Atlanta Oglethorpe University's Stormy Petrels' basketball team in the early '60's.He was viewed as a good recruiter so if anything this was a 'safe hire'.

            Georgia basketball took a step backwards under safety hire John Guthrie

Unfortunately year one of the Guthrie era was a disaster. Georgia went 6-20 overall and was a horrible 2-16 in SEC play with the only bright spot actually being an 83-78 loss to co-champion Vanderbilt in Nashville late in the season. Oddly enough TVS color analyst Joe Dean sought out Guthrie to interview on camera following the regionally televised game for the gutty effort the Bulldogs displayed.But even though Georgia only won two more games in  '74-'75 ,things seemed like they were headed in the right direction with freshman phenom Jacky Dorsey who made first team All-SEC on a squad that included Tennessee's "Ernie and Bernie" among others.

With Dorsey and fellow sophomore Tony Flanagan being joined by highly regarded incoming freshmen Walter Daniels and Lucious Foster, Georgia looked to make a run in 1975-1976.A three game home stretch midway in the conference season demonstrated the Bulldogs were indeed close, but not there yet. Georgia lost two straight games by two in overtime to #8 Alabama and Vanderbilt who both were battling for the SEC title that year. The Bulldogs did win in their next outing over Kentucky, who would go on and win the 1976 NIT. The results were another losing season at 12-15, but Georgia was a tough out, especially at home where they were 10-5.

Two-time First team All-SEC Jacky Dorsey (44) drives against SEC champ Alabama

But after being named first team All-SEC again, Jacky Dorsey decided to enter the NBA draft foregoing his last two years of eligibility.Georgia struggled again winning only 9 games total,but did give SEC co-champ Tennessee one of their two losses denying the Vols their first outright title in ten years. 1977-1978 was only marginally better at 11-16 but coupled with the fact that the SEC was down sending only Kentucky to post season play (who did indeed win the NCAA title), the Bulldog administration decided to relieve Guthrie of his duties.

This time Georgia again the Bulldogs went after an accomplished head coach as Guthrie's impending ouster was no surprise. Shortly after the conclusion of the 1978 NCAA tournament, Georgia lured Florida State head coach Hugh Durham away from his alma mater. Durham,only 40 at the time of his hiring, had been the Seminoles' head coach for 12 years compiling a 230-95 record.Whereas Georgia had never had a 20 win season nor participated in post-season play, Durham had had four twenty win seasons and three trips to the NCAA tournament including an 81-76 loss to UCLA at the Los Angeles' Sports Arena in the 1972 NCAA Title game. The Bruins' five point victory was the narrowest margin John Wooden had in his incredible run of ten national titles in twelve years.

UCLA's 81-76 win over Hugh Durham's Florida State team in '72 was John Wooden's closest call in the 10 NCAA titles he won in a 12 year span

Durham had explored other jobs during his tenure at Florida State frustrated over the school and the entire state's apathy towards basketball. He discussed the Georgia offer with other coaches, including North Carolina's Dean Smith.Smith felt the Georgia job had potential but strongly suggested that Georgia develop a statewide radio network.This concept resonated with Durham.A native of Louisville, Durham had grown up a Kentucky fan and listened to every Kentucky basketball game growing up even crying as a youngster on the rare occasion the 'Cats would lose.(He had even signed a scholarship to Kentucky to play football,but his first love was basketball and signed with Florida State after hometown Louisville only offered a partial scholarship).Georgia agreed to putting together a radio network and had five stations in 1978 and 42 five years later when the Bulldogs went to the Final Four.

Growing up in Kentucky in the 50's, Durham listened to UK basketball and Cawood Ledford on the radio. Dean Smith encouraged him to get assurances from Georgia that the Bulldogs would put together a state-wide radio network

At Florida State,he had been a star player himself for the Seminoles in the late 1950's. At the time of his hiring at Georgia in 1978 he was still the sixth all-time scorer in Florida State history. He had a career high of 43 points his sophomore year vs Stetson and in his senior year when he averaged 21 points per game he scored 36 points vs none other than Georgia.

Like Guthrie, Durham's promotion to head coach at Florida State was also done on short notice and out of necessity. After graduating from Florida State, Durham became an assistant for his college coach, Bud Kennedy. When Kennedy stepped down (and died shortly after) after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, Durham was elevated to head coach.Among other players, one of his players was Lenny Hall, a junior college transfer who Durham had recruited to Florida State while he was still an assistant. What made Hall's presence different was he was the first black athlete in Florida State history.

Durham's (back right)  first Florida State squad in 1966-1967.Lenny Hall (14) was the first black athlete in school history

Not unlike other areas in the South in 1966, Hall's recruitment was not well received by everyone in Florida nor the "Seminole Nation". Nonetheless, Kennedy and Durham stood firm from outside pressure to "reconsider" the transfer. In game one of the 1966-1967 season and game one of the Hugh Durham Era, Hall entered the game. He played four minutes scoring four points and collecting two rebounds. Unfortunately, in coming down with one of the rebounds he twisted his knee and left the game. Unable to return due to his injury, it was determined afterwards he had cartilage damage. Sadly, after only a few minutes in his first game as a Seminole, his career was over.Oddly enough, Hall's four points were the difference in Florida State's four point win over Valdosta State in Durham's debut.

Even though Hall would never play again, Durham continued to recruit black players in an era where most of his Southern counterparts (SEC, ACC and other Independents) pursued the matter a little slower or with more hesitance. Durham wanted to win and recruited players who were often passed over by "larger" schools, as Florida State wasn't the athletic power it became in the late 1980's.In his second year as head coach in 1968, Florida State was selected for the NCAA tournament for the first time led by future NBA All-Star Dave Cowens.In 1972 when Florida State blasted Kentucky 73-54 in the Mideast Regional final to advance to the Final Four in Adolph Rupp's final game, the Seminoles had five black starters while the Wildcats had zero.

But headed into the 1978-1979 season this was a non-issue and Durham and the Bulldogs looked to improve and have a winnings season for the first time in seven years.A winning season would be a start in the right direction. While he had four 20 or more win seasons in 12 years at Tallahassee, the Georgia Bulldogs had only had two 20 or more win seasons in their entire history, the last time in the 1939-1940 season.

Behind senior Walter Daniels and his 22 pt per game average, the Bulldogs fought to a 13-13 regular season mark including home wins over conference foes Vanderbilt, Miss State and regular season champion LSU who were all three ranked at the time they fell to Georgia.As noted in the 'regular season' conotation, Georgia's season wasn't over yet.

For the first time since 1953, the Southeastern Conference would stage a post-season tournament with the tournament winner being awarded the SEC's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.Georgia was seeded 7th and faced Mississippi State in the first round at the Civic Center in Birmingham. The Maroon Bulldogs had missed a second place finish by one game which would given Mississippi State a two day bye in the unusual format only used in '79.Behind Daniels, Georgia overcame a 10 point second half deficit and upset Mississippi State, 75-72.Next up would be Auburn, who had won in an upset themselves, 59-53 over Vanderbilt.(Within 24 hours after the game, Vandy coach Wayne Dobbs was dismissed after being named SEC "Coach of the Year" the same day.)

On the second day of the tourney, two of the best games in SEC tournament history were played. In game one, Kentucky held off Alabama, 101-100.If the Georgia-Auburn nightcap didn't top it, it certainly matched it for drama.For starters, in the immediate aftermath of Georgia's win vs Mississippi State, all the laughter turned to sorrow when team leader Daniels was informed that his father had suffered a heart attack at his home in Macon.Daniels immediately drove the almost 240 miles to Macon to be with his family as sadly his father passed away before Walter could get to the hospital.While the decision as to play against Auburn was unequivocally young Daniels' decision, whether it was based on an emotional diversion or adrenaline,after spending time with his family, he returned to Birmingham with his family's blessing in time for the pregame meal.

Even though he hadn't slept in over 36 hours, Daniels put on quite a memorable performance. In a game where Georgia never led, Auburn won 95-91 in four overtimes. At the end of the first three overtimes Georgia had a shot to win but failed to convert.Daniels tallied 20 points but Auburn advanced to face Tennessee the next night.Before retiring for the evening, the Bulldogs faced one more unfortunate twist. With the game ending so late,the restaurants at the hotel where the team stayed had long closed.So well after 1:00 in the morning the team bused to a 24 hour short order restaurant nearby only to find out it had just been robbed and the police had closed it off with yellow tape and all.Knowing it wasn't their day, the Bulldogs just went back to the motel and raided various snack machines. Georgia ended year one of the Hugh Durham era at 14-14.
    Walter Daniels put on a memorable performance in the SEC Tournament renewal

Georgia improved only by one game in 1979-1980 at 14-13, but improved its talent level dramatically.McDonald's High School All-American Terry Fair signed with the Bulldogs as did Lamar Heard. But the biggest catch was McDonald's High School All-American and Dapper Dan All-American Dominique Wilkins from Washington,NC.Like the year before the Bulldogs had their moments such as an overtime win over eventual Midwest #1 seed LSU. But also like the year before, the season ended with the SEC Tournament in Birmingham with a loss to Auburn,this time in regulation.

HS All-American Dominique Wilkins choosing Georgia over homestate NC State led to many more highly recruited players matriculating to Athens and the Bulldogs

Durham secured even more talent for the 1980-1981 season adding Vern Fleming from New York and homegrown James Banks, both McDonald's High School All-Americans as well.The Bulldogs were now looking to join Tennessee in challenging LSU and Kentucky.And Georgia started out 6-0 and would meet Durham's old team, the Florida State Seminoles in the title game of the Cotton States Classic at the Omni in Atlanta.The game went back and forth the entire game.Georgia missed two free throws with a minute left, but got the ball back only to have Florida State steal in and gain possession for the final shot.Mickey Dillard, a member of Durham's last recruiting class in Tallahassee,nailed a 15 foot jumper as time expired and the Seminoles handed the Bulldogs their first defeat, 64-62.

Mickey Dillard, part of Durham's last recruiting class at Florida State,made a buzzer beater to give the 1980-1981 Bulldogs their first loss of the season.

Georgia SEC play at 3-2 and 10-3 overall and traveled to Baton Rouge for a televised game with 6th ranked LSU. LSU won easily, 78-65 which wasn't unexpected, but it would be the first of four losses over a five game stretch.The fourth loss was a heartbreaker, a double overtime loss at home to seventh ranked Kentucky, 71-68. Two weeks later at home Georgia would again take one of the league's best team to the wire and this time it was LSU's Howard Carter who made a baseline jumper at the buzzer to give now fifth ranked LSU a 64-62 win.

The Bulldogs finished regular season play at 16-10 and 9-9 in the SEC which included an overtime win over then #10 Tennessee, 76-75 in the last home game of the season.Once again it was on to Birmingham for the SEC Tournament but the opponent this time would be Alabama instead of Auburn.Like the top two teams in the SEC, LSU and Kentucky, the Crimson Tide had won both meeting in the regular season. But in a day where the lower seeds had the upper hand, fifth seeded Georgia broke open a 60-60 tie vs fourth seeded Alabama and led by as much as 12 before winning, 88-80 behind Wilkins' 31 points.Georgia, having finally won a tournament game since the tourney started back in 1979 , would face regular season champion and nationally third ranked LSU, the only higher seed to win its game of the four quarterfinal games.

The Tigers had roared through the regular season becoming only the second team since the SEC went to an 18 game round-robin in 1967 to go 17-1 missing an unbeaten conference season by losing by two at Kentucky in the regular season finale.But Georgia had played LSU tough in both meetings.In Baton Rouge,after LSU had gotten out to an early twelve point lead which stretched out to sixteen by halftime, Georgia cut the lead to seven before LSU wound up winning by 13.And in Athens it took a buzzer beater for LSU to escape by two.

LSU led 32-31 at halftime and stretched the lead to 44-39 with 12:00 left before Georgia made its charge.Down 52-51, Vern Fleming was stripped by Ethan Martin of LSU who was fouled going in for a layup. Martin, a 74% foul shooter, missed both and Wilkins scored two of his 18 points when he drilled a baseline jumper to give Georgia a 53-52 lead that they would never relinquish. The Bulldogs made 11 of 11 free throws in the last few minutes to come away with a stunning 68-60 win over LSU and advance to the tournament title game to face Ole Miss.

The matchup while unexpected was intriguing. In a rather top heavy season LSU,Kentucky and Tennessee were all ranked in the top 12 and were certainly guaranteed spots in the NCAA tournament as 'at-large' seeds. While the NCAA tourney had expanded to 48 teams, there was a gap between these three and the others. Only the winning team, who would indeed get the league's automatic berth would make the NCAA's. The loser was headed to the NIT.Neither Georgia nor Ole Miss had ever participated in the NCAA tournament. Ole Miss had experienced post season play for the first time the year before making it to the second round of the NIT. So, win or lose Georgia would participate in post season play for the first time. But after defeating Alabama and league champion LSU, the Bulldogs were thinking NCAA and not NIT.

Ole Miss felt the same way. Under Bob Knight protege' Bob Weltlich, the Rebels who had suffered through basketball with even less history than Georgia. Ole Miss had made great strides and in this tourney had eliminated third seed Tennessee and had easily disposed of Vanderbilt by 20 who had upset second seed Kentucky the night before.

Behind Wilkins' outburst of 20 points, Georgia led 38-30 at halftime. Ole Miss, who had led the league in defense holding opponents to 61 points per game, buckled down on defense. But Georgia still led by 7 with 10:00 left.Then the Rebels' offense started to click. Behind Mr. Blind Side Sean Tuohy who recorded an incredible 10 assists, he started feeding Carlos Clark and Elston Turner for baskets. With six minutes left the game was tied at 53. Ole Miss broke a 58 all tie with three minutes left and pulled away for a 66-62 win and SEC Tournament title, the Rebels' first post-season or regular season title in school history. They also would get the league's automatic bid and take their less than stellar 16-13 record to the NCAA tournament.
Sean Tuohy, "Mr." Blind Side, stands atop the rim after Ole Miss' 1981 SEC Tourney title over Georgia

Wilkins only scored 8 points in the second half under the Rebels' pressure and finished with 28 points. He was also named the tournament MVP. As the NCAA dream died that night in Birmingham, Georgia's thoughts turned to the NIT, which would also be a first in school history. In discussing the all but certain NIT invite, Durham was philosophical adding, "if you've never been there you can't be choosy," alluding to the missed opportunity to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament.

The Bulldogs did indeed receive an NIT bid and three days later would host Old Dominion in Athens.The Monarchs had been the only team in the regular season to defeat NCAA #1 seed DePaul.Although not a sellout, over 8000 fans came out to support Georgia in its first post season game. They were not disappointed. Against a taller Monarch squad, Georgia outrebounded ODU 47-43 en route to a 74-60 win. The game was never really in doubt as Georgia got out to an early lead and led 32-20 at halftime.

     Eric Marbury drives against Old Dominion in Georgia's first post-season game

Next up was South Alabama, who was still seething at being snubbed by the NCAA even with a 23-5 record.Cliff Ellis' Jaguars wanted to win the NIT to show their omission from the NCAA tourney was "a sham". South Alabama had been ranked as high as 14th at one time in the season.But in-state rival UAB blasted South Alabama, 86-59 in the SunBelt semifinals. And whereas North Carolina Charlotte's 1977 Final Four appearance put the SunBelt Conference on the map, they weren't regarded as a multi-bid league--certainly not more than one "at-large" bid. Virginia Commonwealth edged UAB in overtime and got the automatic bid while UAB received an at-large bid.(Five years later the SunBelt received three at-large bids, the same as the Southeastern Conference did that season.)

South Alabama came to Athens on a mission and led early by 8 but Georgia settled down and led by one 43-42 at intermission.The lead would change hands 21 times before South Alabama senior Ed Rains stepped to the foul line for two shots with four seconds left with Georgia up 72-71.Georgia called three timeouts before Rains first attempt. But Rains, the game's leading scorer with 25 points made both and South Alabama left Athens with a 73-72 after a 40 foot Vern Fleming shot missed at the buzzer. Georgia's 1980-1981 season had come to an end with a record of 19-12.
After flirting with the NBA, Wilkins was featured in Sports Illustrated's 1981-1982 pre-season college basketball issue

The 1981-1982 season found high expectations for basketball on the Georgia campus. For starters Dominique Wilkins, who had acquired the nickname "The Human Highlight Film" had decided to return for another season after considering entering the NBA draft.Wilkins all but conceded this would be his final season. After much consideration with former Marquette and NBA star Maurice Lucas, he decided with a better '81-'82 he could command more than the $400,000 he could take now. Plus, he actually was enjoying his college career and wanted at least one more season with the Bulldogs.And, on the heels of the wealth of talent Durham had assembled in Athens and the 1981 SEC and NIT runs, the Bulldogs found themselves in the AP's preseason basketball poll at #16.This was only Georgia's second time to be ranked joining the 1969-1970 squad.Unfortunately this stay in the polls was as long as the other one, one week.

Behind pre-season All-American candidate Quintin Dailey's 39 points,the San Francisco Dons defeated #16 Georgia, 92-84 in front of Bay Area resident Reggie Jackson and a cable television audience on a fledgling sports network in its third season,ESPN.(Three months later Dailey would be arrested for sexually assualting a female resident assistant. During the investigation, Dailey admitted to accepting $5,000 for a no-show job at a business owned by a prominent USF supporter.Facing NCAA probation now for the third time in a short period of time, USF president Rev. John Lo Schiavo shut the basketball program down until the 1985-1986 season.)
Quintin Dailey of San Francisco shot down Georgia in game one of the 1981-1982 season. Three months later he helped shut down his own program

But for Georgia, it was only one loss. The Bulldogs followed this up with a win in Tallahassee over Florida State, getting a bit of revenge for last season's loss to the Seminoles.Once again in the Cotton States Classic at Atlanta's Omni, the Bulldogs captured the crown with a 76-72 win over #16 UAB. Georgia opened its SEC home schedule vs #4 Kentucky losing 68-66.After starting the season 7-3,Georgia found itself 9-8 after losing the return game to now #7 Kentucky 82-73.
After falling at the buzzer the year before, Georgia won the Cotton States Classic at      the Omni over #16 and Mideast Regional finalist UAB

Georgia then seemed to find its footing, winning 4 straight games culminating in a 57-51 win in Baton Rouge effectively ending reigning champ LSU's hopes at getting back in the '82 race.The Bulldogs scored the games final 6 points in the last minute ending LSU's 23 game home winning streak. The following day in Greensboro,NC before a nationally televisied audience, in a homecoming of sorts for Wilkins, Georgia gave #2 North Carolina all they wanted before faltering 66-57.Wilkins scored 19 points and after two Gerald Crosby baskets Georgia was within 4 points at 57-53 with 2:09 left. But James Worthy and a freshman named Michael Jordan combined for six straight points and the Tar Heels held on for victory.

The loss to North Carolina was followed by a loss to #19 Alabama and Georgia was now 13-10. But the Bulldogs ended the conference season at 10-8 by winning their last three games including an upset in Knoxville over #19 Tennessee, 64-63.Georgia led by as many as 9 in the second half before the Vols rallied to take the lead in the final minute.But twice Tennessee missed front ends of one and ones and Wilkins tapped in a missed shot with :08 to give Georgia the lead and eventual win.After a timeout, Tennessee All-SEC forward Dale Ellis from Marietta, GA couldn't secure a pass under the basket and time expired and Georgia had knocked Tennessee out of sole possession of first in the SEC and into a tie with Kentucky.

For the first time since the revival of the SEC Tournament, it was not played in Birmingham and was played at Kentucky's Rupp Arena in downtown Lexington.At 16-10 Georgia would need to win the tournament to receive an NCAA bid. As in 1981, Georgia would face Alabama in the first round of the tourney,but this time the Tide won, 85-74 for their third win over Georgia in 1981-1982. For the second year in a row, Georgia would participate in the NIT.

As in the 1981 NIT, Georgia got to play its games at home.But unlike the year before, the Bulldogs would win all three home games, and win them all convincingly. Temple fell by 13, Maryland would fall by 14 and in what turned out to be Wilkins' last home game, Georgia throttled Virginia Tech, 90-73. Now it was on to New York City, Vern Fleming's hometown, for the 1982 NIT Final Four and a semifinal game vs the Purdue Boilermakers.Post season play was nothing unusual for Purdue. In fact the Boilers had played in the 1979 NIT Final Four and followed that up with the 1980 NCAA Final Four.

Current Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings scored two points for Purdue in their one point win over Georgia in the 1982 NIT Final Four Semifinal game in New York

Purdue had won 9 of their last 11 games entering the Georgia game after being 8-11 at one point in the season. Among other Purdue players on that squad was current Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings, who was billed as the team's "designated bomber". Georgia would lead by as many as nine points in the first half even with Wilkins playing less than nine minutes due to a nagging ankle injury that had hampered him for weeks.But Russell Cross and Keith Edmondson both scored late baskets and the Bulldogs' lead was down to 30-27 at the break.

Wilkins would play the entire second half. Georgia would lead the entire game until 7:32 was left in the game. Cross and Edmondson who would each score 25 as they provided 50 of Purdue's ultimate 61 points. A Cross layup gave the Boilers their first lead at 48-47 as the game came down to the wire.Georgia went back up one more time at 60-59 as Purdue began their last possession.

Along the baseline, Cross took a pass from former Mr. Indiana HS player Dan Palmbizio,whom had committed to Purdue rival Indiana and Bob Knight as a high school sophomore, and after a pump fake scored the winning points with :04 left as Purdue led 61-60 as Georgia called timeout.After getting the ball to midcourt on the ensuing inbounds pass, Georgia called one more timeout with :03 left. With the hobbled Wilkins covered up Eric Marbury, who would be named to the 1982 All-NIT squad, drove to the baseline but was unable to get a shot off and Purdue advanced to the title game vs Bradley. Marbury led Georgia with 20 and a gimpy Wilkins finished his Georgia career with 15 points.Oddly enough in losing the semifinal game, the fact that Georgia's (and Oklahoma, who had lost to Bradley in the first game) season was indeed over with a second straight 19-12 mark.

With the NIT ending the Consolation game(albeit briefly) starting with the 1982 Final Four, neither Georgia nor Oklahoma had the opportunity to play for a similar banner.After much ridicule, mainly by Duke supporters, North Carolina did indeed remove this banner from the Dean Dome

Since the inception of the NIT and the subsequent and over time much more prestigious NCAA tournament, consolation games in each tourney's 'Final Four' had been played. In fact,through the 1975 season the NCAA staged Regional consolation games. But like the NCAA who decided to end the practice a year earlier with Virginia's win over LSU in the 1981 Final Four,the NIT decided to do the same ending their practice of a consolation game. While the NCAA has continued this practice, the NIT revived the consolation game following the 1984 season and continued it through the 2003 season, seemingly for good this time.

Wilkins did indeed declare for the NBA draft and was drafted third overall by the Utah Jazz but before the season started, he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks.Georgia would certainly miss Wilkins and his incredible ablility. In fact, Norm Sloan who was coaching Florida at the time had recruited Wilkins out of high school while still coaching at North Carolina State.Sloan compared Wilkins to David Thompson who five years earlier had led Sloan's Wolfpack to the NCAA title, and after losing him to Georgia resigned himself to the fact there was no way he'd get to coach "two David Thompsons", an incredible compliment.

But as Georgia's football team would soon find out that there was indeed life after Herschel, the basketball squad found out there was life after 'Nique.In addition to Wilkins, Georgia lost four year starter Eric Marbury, but returned James Banks, Terry Fair and Vern Fleming. Lamar Heard and Gerald Crosby stepped in to fill the void of the departing stars.Still, the Bulldogs were a pre-season choice to finish sixth or seventh in the SEC.Playing against a less than challenging non-conference schedule, the 1982-1983 Bulldogs opened the season 8-0 dominating the opposition. Other than a two point squeaker vs Georgia Southern in Savannah, Georgia won the other seven by an average of 33 points including a 75-54 blowout in Austin of Texas and new coach Bob Weltlich in his first year after leaving Ole Miss.

  Terry Fair was one of three starters returning for the 1982-1983 Georgia Bulldogs

SEC play started in Knoxville where Georgia suffered its first defeat of the season falling to #12 Tennessee, 87-76.They returned to Athens two games later at 1-2 in SEC play but downed tenth ranked Alabama, 67-64.Another McDonald's All-American freshman, Donald Hartry broke a 64-64 tie with :12 left canning a 20 foot jumper as the Tide had go-to player Vern Fleming covered up. After a quick Tide miss, a Fleming free throw put the game out of reach.

Georgia marched on at 12-3 as #10 Kentucky came to town.The Bulldogs had lost twelve straight games to the Wildcats going back to 1976 and had only beaten them three times since 1950.Kentucky led by six and halftime and increased their lead to 53-44 with eight minutes remaining and appeared in control of another win over Georgia. But suddenly James Banks hit three straight shots from the baseline igniting a 19-2 run. Georgia took the lead for good at 56-55 on a basket by reserve Richard Corhen with 3:58 left.Corhen scored again as did Terry Fair and Gerald Crosby and with 1:20 left Georgia led, 63-55. Georgia won 70-63 to end the drought vs Kentucky behind Banks' 15 points, Fair's 14 and Vern Fleming's 17 points. Now 13-3, the Bulldogs were now 13-3 and in a five-way tie for first place in the SEC.

After the Kentucky win, Georgia found itself in the AP basketball poll at #19. This was only the third time Georgia had ever been ranked and after the first two times in 1970 and the prior season ,the Bulldogs immediately lost and never got back in the polls. Up next was Vanderbilt, who was one of the teams tied with Georgia for first.Vandy had a good team as demonstrated by their season sweeps that year over Tennessee and Alabama (both eventual NCAA participants). But Georgia got off to an 11-2 lead ,led by 17 at halftime and blistered the Commodores, 86-61. The 5-way log jam at the top was down to a two way tie, the unlikely pair of Georgia and Ole Miss.

With two more home games in the four game stand remaining, Georgia looked to maybe pull away in what was an incredibly balanced league that season. Next up was LSU who had edged the Bulldogs earlier in the year, 60-56.The game was knotted at 32 at halftime and the lead changed hands 19 times. Leonard Mitchell put LSU ahead to stay at 52-50.LSU's Howard "Hi-C" Carter made a free throw and a layup after a steal at midcourt to stretch LSU's lead to 61-55 with under 5:00 left. Georgia never got within four and Carter made four free throws in the final :33 to ice the game and hand Georgia their first home loss of the year as the Tigers won, 70-59.
Vern Fleming scores over LSU and their current coach Johnny Jones (12) and the game's high scorer, Howard Carter. LSU won 70-59 handing Georgia their first home loss

But Georgia was still tied for first and it was just one home loss in what was a topsy-turvy SEC season. Earlier in the year Auburn had won at Kentucky for the first time ever, and Tennessee had lost to in-state rival Vanderbilt at home for the first time in nine years so while there was disappointment, there was no real concern with the loss to a good LSU squad.That feeling changed in the next outing, another home game this one vs co-leader Ole Miss.

A showdown between the league leaders turned into a nightmare for Georgia. Ole Miss led only 32-30 at halftime. The game stayed close until Ole Miss' Brad Pierce made a 20 foot jumper to give the Rebels a 47-45 lead they would not relinquish.Their lead increased to nine with five minutes left and free throw shooting put the game out of reach.Ole Miss made their final 14 free throws and won 76-59. The Rebels also sharply outrebounded the Bulldogs 38-22.Georgia players and coaches alike lamented the team's lethargic effort. After entering the game tied for first, Georgia was now sixth in a strange conference season.

The losses continued in the next two outings, this time on the road to Alabama and Mississippi State and now Georgia was 15-7 and 6-7. After talk of winning their first SEC crown, realistically the Bulldogs were faced with having to win the SEC Tournament to gain the coveted first NCAA bid after looking like a lock for an at-large bid. The ship was righted somewhat with home wins over Auburn and Florida.

Kenny "Sky"  Walker scores as the Wildcats clinch a share of the '83 SEC Title vs Georgia

Georgia went back on the road and lost to Kentucky and Vanderbilt,two of the SEC's more difficult venues for opposing squads. But the effort was there in both outings.#10 Kentucky clinched a share of their 34th SEC title. After trailing by 10 at halftime, Georgia had it down to 70-65 with 4:35 left. A 10-1 run but the game out of reach and the Wildcats won, 81-72.

The Vandy game was especially excruciating. Still trying to win enough to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, the Bulldogs led 47-34 early in the second half and still led 68-60 with under five minutes left.But Vanderbilt made one last charge and cut the lead to 70-69. With :04 left Vandy center Jeff Turner sank two free throws to give Vanderbilt a 71-70 on regional television.After starting the season 15-3, Georgia was now 17-9.

Vern Fleming (7)'s 1984 Olympic teammate Jeff Turner (15) made two free throws with :04 left to hand Georgia what turned out to be their last loss until the Final Four

Having lost six of their last 8 many gave up on the Bulldogs. Instead with Tennessee coming to Athens for the regular season finale, Georgia may have played its best game of the season up to that point. The Vols had been ranked for most of the season and would go on and make a league leading fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance.Georgia led by one at halftime, 34-33 but a Dan Federmann made a put back to give the Vols a one point lead. But behind Vern Fleming, who scored a career high 28 with 22 in the second half,led Georgia to a 43-35 lead.

Georgia kept the pressure on holding Vol All-American Dale Ellis to only 4 second half points as Tennessee committed 26 turnovers.The Bulldogs went up by twelve and at the halfway mark Tennessee cut it to nine at 56-47.But the rest of the way was all Georgia as the Bulldogs rolled 74-59 with Crosby,Banks and Fair joining Fleming with double figures.

The SEC Tournament returned to Birmingham with virtually every team thinking they had a good chance at winning. Only two games separated number two seed LSU and number nine seed Alabama who had swept the Tigers in the regular season.Georgia finished the regular season tied for fourth at 9-9 with three other teams. The Bulldogs were seeded sixth and would face three seed Ole Miss in the second round,just narrowly escaping the opening round as Tennessee also 9-9 was the seventh seed.

The Bulldogs and Rebels had split the two regular season game each team winning handily on the other's home court. So, it made sense that a game on a neutral court would get out of hand. The two plodded along until a 12-2 spurt propelled Georgia to 28-22 lead at halftime. Fleming hit three line drive jumpers in a two minute span to take the lead to 10 but Ole Miss climbed back to cut it to four. But a Fleming three pointer gave Georgia a cushion with under 6:00 left and Ole Miss couldn't overcome it. The Rebels' poor shooting soon turned into fast break points for Georgia's transition game as the Bulldogs were able to pull away to a 69-55 win scoring 41 points in the second half.

Georgia's win over Ole Miss sent the Rebels and Carlos Clark (22) to the NIT where tourney officials used red,white, and blue basketballs for the 1983 NIT Tourney

Next up was Tennessee for the second time in a week. The Vols had beaten Florida in the opening session and downed second seed LSU in overtime 74-71 in overtime.The game went back and forth with the game tied at 20. James Banks' jumper gave Georgia lead they'd never relinquish and the Bulldogs led 34-27 at halftime.

For the second time in two games, Georgia started the second half on fire. Within no time Fair converted a three point play and shortly thereafter the Bulldogs led 49-32. Behind Dale Ellis and Michael Brooks, Tennessee made one more push cutting the lead down to eleven at 57-46 with 8:44 left. But that was it for the Big Orange as like the Ole Miss game the day before, Georgia's transition game worked to perfection and for the second time in a week, the Bulldogs had walloped the Volunteers, this time 79-60.

Georgia routed Vol great Dale Ellis and NCAA bound Tennessee twice in seven days

With the win, Georgia advanced to the SEC Tournament title for the second time in three years. This time Georgia would play Alabama who had survived falling behind Mississippi State 11-0 and watching State miss two close shots in the final three seconds as the Tide escaped 51-50. The win also put Georgia's record at 20-9, the Bulldogs' first twenty win season since 1940. That milestone wasn't lost on Durham who felt win or lose, Georgia had earned its way into the NCAA's. The tournament was still two seasons away from opening up to 64 teams, so while indeed Georgia was one of the best "52 teams" in America, a win vs the Tide would give the Bulldogs an automatic bid.

Alabama felt they were in the tourney, regardless as well. The Tide's journey to the SEC Title was like a roller coaster as the Tide had literally proven they could beat the best, and they could also lose to about anyone,too.They started out the season 8-0 ranked 5th in the nation including blowout wins over host Southern California and a 21 point win over 10th ranked Georgetown in the Winston Tire Classic in Los Angeles. But SEC play proved to be a nightmare with the Tide losing one close call after another. Nothing described their play more in 1982-1983 as a stretch where the Tide went 3-9, yet one of the wins was over #5 Kentucky and another was at #1 UCLA. Yet they hit their stride coming into this Georgia game having won nine of their last 10 bringing a 20-10 mark to the championship game.

Alabama and Wimp Sanderson were looking to be the first to win back to back SEC Tournaments since the renewal in 1979

As well as Georgia had played in their last three games, somehow they continued to play even better in this one. Alabama did lead 35-33 at halftime, but the second half was all Georgia.The Bulldogs broke a 43 all tie with just under 15 minutes left and their full court press caused problems for the Tide and suddenly it was 49-43. The lead increased to 61-51 with 8:00 remaining as Alabama was only getting one shot and Georgia couldn't miss.Large deficits were not new for Alabama in this tourney has they had overcome a 10 point deficit vs Auburn, 14 vs Kentucky and 11 vs Mississippi State. But four games in four days caught up with Alabama and  with Georgia making an amazing 22 of 26shots  in the second half for 85% shooting, the Tide was done. Desperate fouling put the game out of reach as Georgia blew out Alabama 86-71 winning their first ever SEC Tournament title and securing their first ever NCAA Tournament berth.Tourney MVP Fleming had 22 points, hometown Gerald Crosby had 21, Terry Fair had 19 and James Banks had 12 to round out the balanced scoring.

      Fleming and Georgia ran past Alabama 86-71 to win the SEC Tournament title

Not only did the Bulldogs make the NCAA tournament but were given a "four seed" in the East Regional which allowed Georgia to enjoy a first round bye in the present format.And, as basically recognition for the way the Bulldogs entered the tournament, the final AP poll had Georgia as the 19th ranked team and the UPI poll had them as the 15th ranked team, the first time Georgia had been ranked for more than one week in the polls.Georgia would play 5th seed Virginia Commonwealth who had defeated #12 LaSalle in the "first round" after the Explorers had defeated fellow #12 Boston University in the "preliminary round".Boston U. had made the tournament for the first time since 1959 and was coached by 30 year old rising star, Rick Pitino.

Georgia was on the same line in the East Regional as Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference North champion Boston University. But the Terriers, led by their young coach Rick Pitino, lost to LaSalle, who then lost to Georgia's first opponent VCU.

Whether it was nerves or simply "March Madness", Georgia struggled against Virginia Commonweath. The Rams were indeed a fine team and two years earlier in the same East regional 4 vs 5 game had taken SEC rival Tennessee to the wire losing 58-56.The Bulldogs led 29-27 at halftime and appeared in control leading 50-41 with 11:33 after a Fleming jumper.But the Rams' patience and desire to slow Georgia down started to pay off.Down by six, VCU scored eight straight to go up 54-52 with under 2:00 left.

A Terry Fair layup tied the game at 54 with 1:17 left and then Georgia forced VCU's Calvin Duncan into a traveling violation.The Bulldogs decided to play for the final shot. With go-to man Fleming covered up James Banks took the ball at the top of the key and dribbled and made a jumper with two seconds left to give Georgia the lead and final margin of 56-54.Not that the game didn't end with some controversy. Banks' shot danced on the rim and it appeared teammate Lamar Heard may have touched it which would have been a violation and negated the basket.Heard, asked afterwards denied touching the ball as did Coach Durham. However, VCU coach J.D. Barnett said,"the ball sure was hanging on the rim and there were some hands up there hitting it," subtly saying he didn't know how the basket could count. Regardless, the basket counted and it was on to Syracuse for the East Regional semifinal vs #1 seed St. John's.

The Redmen finished the regular season ranked #3 having been ranked all season. They had won the Big East regular season and tournament title starting the season out 14-0. They had won all of their non-conference games including a season opening win over defending champion North Carolina, 78-74 who would face the winner of the Georgia-St John's game having defeated Ohio State in the first game.

Before a Carrier Dome crowd of 23,286 the largest to ever see a Georgia basketball game, the top seeded and home state Redmen shot 50% to Georgia's 46% from the field, outshot Georgia from the free throw line 80% to 73%, out-rebounded Georgia 38-26...and lost 70-67.Twice in the first half St. John's led by ten points before Georgia closed to 29-27 at intermission.

St. John's stayed in the lead and increased their margin to 5 at 39-34 before Georgia went on a 15-4 run midway in the second half to take the lead for good and go ahead 49-43 with 10:05 left.The Bulldogs kept the lead while St John's kept chipping away and matched their biggest lead of the game at 57-51 with 3:35 left . Then behind super sophomore Chris Mullin, St John's made a furious comeback.They cut it to 61-60 on four straight points with 1:41 left before Georgia increased the lead again. Mullin ,who led his team with 19 points,sank two free throws with :05 to cut Georgia's lead to one again at 68-67. But Fleming found Terry Fair, who had a career high 27 points,behind St John's press for a dunk at the buzzer to give Georgia their 70-67 win.Lamar Heard had 11 points and Fleming and Banks each had 10 points.Now it was on to the East Regional final vs defending National Champion North Carolina.

While Georgia was participating in its first NCAA tournament, this was the Tar Heels' 17th tournament trailing only Kentucky and UCLA for most appearances.North Carolina had started out slowly at 3-3 but won 18 straight and was ranked #1 for two weeks in a row in February. They had won the ACC regular season title,but lost to NC State in the tournament semifinal. But Georgia had won six in a row, and besides the NCAA first round scare vs VCU had played tremendous basketball against rugged competition.

Georgia's tallest starter was 6'7". North Carolina countered with 6'9" Sam Perkins, 6' 11" Brad Daugherty, 6'9" Matt Doherty, and a 6'5" All-American candidate, Michael Jordan. Like the Bulldogs losing Wilkins, North Carolina had lost a superstar to the early draft in James Worthy after the Tar Heels' title in '82.But unlike the Bulldogs, no one expected this edition of the Tar Heels to not compete for a title.Tar Heel mentor Dean Smith marveled at how well and hard this edition of the Bulldogs had played."They used to sit around and lob the ball to Dominique.There's nothing wrong with that because Dominique would do something with it.But they didn't work as hard defensively as this group has."

Georgia would be looking for its third win in NCAA tournament history. North Carolina would be looking for its third straight Final Four appearance.Durham joked with his squad that he already had tickets for the Final Four and would like for them to join him.They took him up on his offer,but it took awhile. The lead swapped hands ten times in the first half with no team leading by more than two until two Lamar Heard jumpers gave Georgia a 23-19 lead. The Bulldogs scored on 13 of their last 14 first half possessions and stayed in front and took a 37-35 lead into the locker room.

Vern Fleming scores over Sam Perkins. The day before Perkins claimed he didn't even know what conference the Bulldogs were in.

In the second half, Georgia's offense was more like the games they had played in the SEC Tournament two weeks earlier in Birmingham.The Bulldogs continued where they left off at halftime and scored on their first 10 trips in the second half.Smith had expressed concerns about Georgia's transition game but said "the book" on Georgia was they couldn't shoot from the outside.As great of a coach as Smith was, his book evidently didn't include the chapter on Georgia's SEC Tournament title as they scorched the nets all week end. However, with 18:08 left in the second half with Georgia up 41-40, Terry Fair, the hero of the St John's win, picked up his fourth foul.But Fleming, Banks and Crosby just picked up their games and nine minutes later Georgia led 60-51.Also Georgia was aided by back-up Richard Corhen , a moody sophomore who had been in the doghouse for uninspiring play in practice and games of late,when Fair went out who scored 7 points had two blocks and three rebounds.

    James Banks shoots over Michael Jordan (23) and North Carolina in East Final

Georgia went up 70-57 on a Crosby 20 foot jumper with 4:28 left. The Bulldogs' biggest lead was 80-65 with 1:28 left and from there a mini Tar Heel flurry with quick baskets and a full court press along with missed Bulldog free throws made the final a somewhat misleading 82-77 win for Georgia as the Bulldogs were headed to the Final Four.Banks finished with 20 while Fleming and Crosby each at 17. Georgia kept Sam Perkins in check holding him to 14 while Jordan led all scorers with 26.

Much was made in Red and Black about Smith's seemingly innocent "book" comment about Georgia's outside shooting. Banks quipped, "I guess we don't read too many books at Georgia." The Bulldogs also commented on Perkins' comments the day before where he said he knew nothing about Georgia and didn't even know what conference they were in. Georgia fans chanted "S-E-C" everytime Perkins shot a free throw and Fair added his comments motivated them. "I think Sam knows about us and now and where we live and play,"Fair added. "I don't think he'll forget anytime,either." But Georgia was all smiles as Durham chuckled,"first of all, we've got to find a place to practice. We practice in a multipurpose arena and they took the floor up last week. A rodeo's coming to town this week.We're not accustomed to playing basketball in March at Georgia."

Regardless of books or conferences, the Georgia Bulldogs would indeed join their coach in the Final Four in Albuquerque, New Mexico.Their coach would be making his second trip to the Final Four. Durham had taken Florida State to the 1972 Final Four and lost to UCLA in the National Title. In the national semifinal, Durham and the Seminoles downed none other than Dean Smith and the North Carolina Tar Heels, 79-75, the same coach and team he just defeated to make the Final Four. As of 1983, Hugh Durham joined a select group of only five other coaches who had taken two different schools to the Final Four in the tourney's then 45 year history. The Bulldogs themselves became only the third team since the tournament expanded to 32 teams allowing for teams other than the conference champion to be selected as an at-large team to make the Final Four in their first ever trip to the NCAA tournament joining North Carolina-Charlotte and Indiana State. They also became only the third SEC team to make the Final Four joining Kentucky and LSU.

Joining the Bulldogs were three old hands at the NCAA Tournament, Houston, Louisville and Georgia's opponent Saturday, North Carolina State. The Cougars and Cardinals had both made the 1982 Final Four and were expected to be here again in '83.NC State made the 1982 NCAA Tournament, but was upset by UT Chattanooga,58-51.The Moccasins were coached by Murray Arnold, who had been an assistant coach under Hugh Durham at Florida State in 1968 and 1969.

NC State had been eliminated in the first round of the 1982 NCAA Tournament by UT-Chattanooga, coached by former Hugh Durham assistant, Murray Arnold

While the Wolfpack was competing in its 11th NCAA Tournament, which included a National Title in 1974, their road to Albuquerque was similar to Georgia's. Like the Bulldogs, the Wolfpack won their conference tournament (ACC) and received their conference's automatic bid. It was unlikely that either Georgia or NC State would have made the tournament as an at-large team.Both had tough paths getting to the Final Four with the Wolfpack having to defeat #3 UNLV and top seed Virginia in the West Regional final. Not surprising both teams were given the "Cinderella" moniker with both teams defending the other's Albuquerque destination.Durham joked that Georgia making the Final Four might be "the best thing that ever happened to college basketball.Because everyone will think they can get here,too.Coaches will say 'if Georgia can make it, so can we.' Its great for the game."

NC State's Jim Valvano characteristically joked about the pressure. When asked about bed checks, he replied,"I had a bed check for the first time in my sixteen years of coaching. All of the beds were there." There was some validity in this comment about pressure as whether it was in regards to Georgia's "Wonderdogs" or NC State's "Cardiac Pack" eventually the talk would turn to the Louisville-Houston game which was being billed as the "main event" or real title game. Georgia vs NC State was talked about almost as the JV game.The "experts" were split on the "tune-up" game making cases for either Georgia or State to be the Louisville-Houston winner's road kill on Monday.

                Banks and Durham discuss strategy during workout in Albuquerque

But the road ended here for Georgia. The outside shooting that had buried their SEC brethren in the Birmingham during the SEC Tournament and North Carolina in the East Final in the Carrier Dome failed them miserably in the first half.The Bulldogs missed 19 of their first 23 shots and trailed by 11 at halftime, 33-22 as NC State's 2-3 zone worked like a charm.Georgia shot a miserable 28% from the second half with Banks going 3 of 15 himself.

 North Carolina State's defense smothered Georgia in '83 National Semifinal game

Georgia's struggles continued in the second half as the lead soared to 43-29 with 14:23 remaining. Refusing to concede, the Bulldogs then went on an 8-0 run with a layup by Donald Haltry to cut it to 43-37. Plenty of time remained. The two went back and forth but with the score 49-41, NC State went on a 10-0 run to effectively put the game out of reach at 59-41with under 6:00 remaining.

Running out of time Georgia made one last valiant effort. With under :30 left the Bulldogs had cut it to 65-60. But that was it. Two more Wolfpack free throws made the final 67-60.Georgia gave it all they had with Fleming scoring 12 of his 14 in the second half, Banks scoring 13 and Crosby adding 12. Heard had 8 along with 11 rebounds. NC State was led by Thurl Bailey and Derrick Wittenburg who each had 20. Wittenburg's status for the game had been questionable after coming down with the flu and 101 degree temperature earlier in the week.

Cozell McQueen brings down one of his game high 13 rebounds as Lorenzo Charles (43) watches.Charles had 6 points vs Georgia, but his dunk shot two nights later still resonates in the college basketball world over 30 years later

Houston went on to win the "A Game" as Valvano dubbed it, 94-81 before of course losing to Valvano's celebrated Pack squad 54-52 in the actual title game. North Carolina State indeed secured "one shining moment" but the 1983 Georgia Bulldogs had several shining moments making the most of their first NCAA tournament during a remarkable season.

NC State and Valvano cut down the nets two nights later, but Georgia's 1982-1983  squad had several shining moments of their own