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Georgia basketball battling premium paid programs, working to overachieve

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Georgia basketball is making progress, even if the scoreboard in Arkansas suggested otherwise.

No one is talking about moral victories here, or any victory, for that matter. It’s more a matter of perspective.

The Bulldogs dropped their fifth game in a row on Saturday night, falling to the Razorbacks in Fayetteville by a 78-75 count.

Georgia battled, erasing a 12-point Arkansas lead in the second half in a game that saw six lead changes and eight ties over the last 7 1/2 minutes.

The more talented team won.

It’s a decidedly off year for Arkansas, a basketball school that started the season ranked No. 14 in the preseason polls on the heels of three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

The Razorbacks, who feature one of the best basketball environments in the nation in Bud Walton Arena, improved to 12-11 overall and 3-7 in the SEC with the win.

The teams played before an announced crowd of 19,200 — almost 9,000 more than UGA’s Stegeman Coliseum capacity of 10,523.

Georgia fell to 14-10 overall and 4-7 in the SEC, 11th in the league standings — which is about where UGA’s talent level and basketball investment suggests it should be.

The Bulldogs didn’t have any players among the 16 who made All-SEC preseason first- or second-team, while Arkansas had two.

Still, it’s a frustrating time for second-year Coach Mike White.

White knew what he was getting into when he left the high expectations in Florida’s championship-level program behind for Georgia’s appreciative basketball audience.

White has brought improvement to basketball, made it a respectable brand with his professionalism and patient post-game press conferences and explanations.

It’s hard to answer questions about a five-game losing streak knowing you don’t have the players to match the competition no matter what defense you call or play you run.

White will fiercely argue that point. He believes in his players and has said there’s no reason why they can’t beat anyone on a given night.

But there’s a reality to basketball and most every other sport at every level, and that is that the better players most always win.

Better players cost more money, and the Bulldogs won’t climb much higher in the SEC without a bigger payroll.

It’s not a stretch to suggest Georgia’s starting quarterback has an NIL package worth more than the entire basketball team’s payroll.

That’s not the case at Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama or Auburn.

It’s all about choices, and keeping Georgia football on top comes at a cost.

Millions of dollars are poured into the football recruiting budget, facilities, the coaching staff and player salaries.

Football is the engine that drives the revenue train and pays for most all of the other Georgia sports — along with those free bobblehead, hat and jersey giveaways that keep students coming to support the basketball team.

Eventually, White will build an NCAA tournament team at Georgia.

This season’s team brought hope with their early-season focus, effort and teamwork on defense and offense.

White did more with less than most coaches across the country earlier this season when the Bulldogs won 10 straight games.

The players bought into the coaching and one another, and there were enough UGA students on hand at home games to create a great basketball environment.

Georgia held a place in the SEC basketball conversation for much of the season.

There were wins over basketball schools like Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, along with a road win at Florida State.

Indeed, Georgia knocked off Arkansas in Athens earlier this season and scored a road win over No. 15 South Carolina.

But it was only a matter of time before the rest of college basketball caught up with this Georgia team, which had a head start thanks to its Italian Tour last summer.

To their credit, this Georgia team continues to follow their head coach’s lead and show effort, poise and class.

Things are surely tough behind those practice walls, and hard conversations are taking place.

But when the team takes the floor, they do so unified and with chins up.

Georgia basketball has some quality wins left this season, maybe even next Saturday against Florida at home, or in one of its two remaining games against Auburn.

Bruce Pearl once confided that White runs “good stuff” and has a knack for matching up well with his well-coached teams.

It’s up to the Georgia veterans to continue to lead so blossoming young UGA stars like Silas Demary Jr. can continue to grow.

Demary Jr. had a team-high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting against Arkansas, along with sharing team-high honors with 3 assists.

The Bulldogs outscored the Razorbacks by four points during the 29 minutes Demary Jr. was on the floor on Saturday night.

That might not seem like much to take away, but it is meaningful that White can identify and develop young talent.

Georgia basketball is an improved product, to the extent fans and supporters are getting their moneys’ worth out of White and the players the Bulldogs acquired in the offseason.

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