March 14, 2011

Dawg duo making return trip to NCAAs

During all the hoopla and celebration that took place in the Georgia locker-room after learning the Bulldogs were headed back to the NCAA, Jeremy Price still had the presence of mind to seek out fellow senior Chris Barnes.

As freshmen, Barnes and Price were part of the Bulldog squad in 2008 that shocked the conference by winning the SEC Tournament to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tourney, the last time Georgia qualified for college basketball's Big Dance.

Friday night at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, the duo gets to re-live the experience when the No. 10 seed Bulldogs take on No. 7 seed Washington in the second round of the East Regional.

"When I first saw our name come up, the first person I ran up to see was Chris. We made it to the NCAAs our first year, and I just wanted to celebrate with him, knowing we were going back," Price said. "Then, after realizing it was in Charlotte, it made it all the more special. That's just up the road, which is exciting because our fan base will be able to go."

Barnes is obviously looking forward to making a return trip as well.

"Going to the NCAAs is one of the best feelings you can have; I tell them they're going to have so much fun," Barnes said. "But I've never been in a situation where we got an at-large bid, either, so even I don't know how to act."

But both Price and Barnes know the Bulldogs will need to quick start focusing on the task that awaits them.

The Huskies (23-10) are certainly no slouch, having just captured that program's second straight Pac-10 Tournament championship and feature one of the nation's better playmakers in guard Isaiah Thomas, who leads Washington in scoring with 16.8 points and six assists per game.

Washington, meanwhile, will no doubt be concerned with dealing with Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins. But for the Bulldogs - five-point underdogs - to come away with a win, Georgia will have to avoid the kind of second-half collapses that happened against Alabama Friday in the SEC Tourney when the Crimson Tide rallied from 14 points down with seven minutes to play.

The loss had many of the national experts questioning whether Georgia would get the coveted bid, although Price claims he was never all that concerned.

"I knew somehow we'd get in, this team deserved it," Price said. "We had a good year, played a tough schedule with a lot of tough teams."

Even so, head coach Mark Fox wasn't taking any chances, ultimately deciding to have the team watch Sunday's selection show without fans or cameras - just in case.

"Everybody had us a bubble team and I think Coach Fox felt, if somehow we didn't make it, he wanted our emotions to just be shared with each other," Barnes said. "It's always been about the team. If we were going to go through some disappointment, he felt we could just comfort each other instead of having a bunch of people around. It turned out to be a fun time."

NOTES: Georgia will bus to Charlotte on Wednesday before a shoot-around at Time Warner Cable Arena on Thursday. … Leslie said Sunday he was feeling a bit more relieved, knowing sister Shaquela Leslie was unharmed during last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, where she is stationed while serving with the U.S. Army. That wasn't the case on Friday, when Travis Leslie played the entire game against Alabama not knowing his sister's situation. "It was a few hours after she got in touch with my mom she sent me an email. I think Coach Fox got an email also. She emailed him saying she was OK. It's just a great feeling knowing my sister is OK," Leslie said. "I tried not to let it get to me; just tried to play my hardest then after the game try to get back in touch with her. I'm just glad we did."

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