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Improbably, Georgia in mix for national title

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Improbably, Georgia in mix for national title

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Alabama was supposed to be the best team in the country. Then Oregon and Kansas State got all the hype. Now it's Notre Dame looking down at everyone else.

Plodding along quietly, barely noticed, is one other team that has a prime spot in the national championship race.

The Georgia Bulldogs.

Coach Mark Richt's squad moved up to No. 3 in The Associated Press poll on Sunday and the same spot in the BCS standings. That leaves only three teams in control of their own destiny: top-ranked Notre Dame, second-ranked Alabama - and Georgia.

The Bulldogs need to beat Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale, then Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game to earn a shot at the big prize in Miami.

Richt is keenly aware of the hoopla that suddenly surrounds his team, so much so that he steadfastly refused to even address the national race on his weekly teleconference.

Asked for his reaction when both Oregon and Kansas State were beaten in stunning upsets Saturday night, Richt replied: ``I was thinking we need to have a great week of preparation for Georgia Tech.''

Someone else asked, in a slightly different way, about having a shot at winning it all.

``Right at this moment, all I can think about is Georgia Tech,'' the coach said.

Finally, as the line went quiet and reporters tried to figure out another way to ask the same question, Richt piped in.

``Does anybody want to talk about Georgia Tech?'' he asked.

But there's no getting around the fact that everything has fallen into place for the Bulldogs (10-1), who haven't always looked impressive but kept winning games, enough to push them into the spot they needed.

Georgia has taken advantage of a soft schedule, padded with non-conference patsies such as Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and lower-division school Georgia Southern, which fell to the Bulldogs 45-14 on Saturday. Inside the SEC, Richt's team benefited from a juggling of the scheduling formula to account for the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M.

Instead of facing Alabama in the regular season, as they would have under the former 12-team format, the Bulldogs picked up Missouri. Their two crossover games from the opposite division were against Auburn (3-8) and Mississippi (5-6). Contrast that with their two major rivals from the SEC East, No. 6 Florida and 13th-ranked South Carolina, which both had to play No. 8 LSU.

South Carolina blew out Georgia 35-7 the first Saturday in October, but the Gamecocks dropped their next two games against LSU and Florida. The Gators also beat LSU, climbing to No. 2 in the rankings, only to be taken down in Georgia's most impressive victory of the season, a 17-9 defensive struggle in Jacksonville, Fla.

The Bulldogs' only other victory over a Football Bowl Subdivision team with a winning record came against Vanderbilt (7-4). They routed the Commodores 48-3.

Nevertheless, timing is everything in the BCS. Oregon and Kansas State fell right at the end of the regular season, with little time to recover, while Georgia has won five straight since the debacle at South Carolina.

``We obviously have goals and aspirations. We've had them since January,'' Aaron Murray said after throwing four touchdown passes in the win over Georgia Southern. ``Let's just see what happens.''

Besides, as Richt will continually stress this week, the Bulldogs won't have any chance of playing for the national title if they don't beat Georgia Tech (6-5), the longtime rival which would love nothing more than to ruin Georgia's national title hopes.

The Yellow Jackets score a lot of points with their option offense. They give up a lot of points, too. Georgia likely will have to win a shootout in its final game of the year at Sanford Stadium.

``You can't even think about (the BCS) until you handle the business in front of you,'' receiver Tavarres King said. ``We can't think about that until we beat Georgia Tech. One game at a time. I know it's super cliche, but that's really the way it is.''

The only issue Richt would address regarding the national polls was the lone first-place vote Georgia got in the coaches' rankings. Notre Dame was a unanimous choice in the AP poll.

``I'm glad you asked me that. I am not the person who voted for us,'' Richt said. ``Somebody thought we were No. 1. I guess that's good. But it's really not all that important.''

Remember, there's that game against Georgia Tech.

Richt wants to talk about nothing else.

``Right now, the only thing I'm really concerned about is playing Georgia Tech,'' he said, fending off one last attempt to get him to talk about that other thing everyone else is talking about. ``We're trying to have a good game plan through the week. We're trying to slow down that offense and put some points on the board.''

With that, there was nothing else to say.

``Thanks everyone,'' Richt said.

The phone line went dead.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' blowout loss to Hornets, including Bradley Beal's buzzer-beater

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' blowout loss to Hornets, including Bradley Beal's buzzer-beater

Here are the five best plays or moments from the Wizards' 122-105 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night...

1. This was a tough one for the Wizards. For the third time this season, they got beaten by the Hornets and for the second straight time it was in a blowout.

They still had their moments, though, including this alley-oop from Tomas Satoransky (11 points) to Markieff Morris (13 points, eight assists, six rebounds). It was the second alley-oop connection for those two in as many games:

PODCAST: WHAT THE SESSIONS SIGNING MEANS FOR SATORANSKY

2. This was a play that encapsulated the Wizards' night. Jodie Meeks drew a flagrant foul on Michael Carter-Williams, but took a hard shot to the head:

3. Kelly Oubre, Jr. had a solid game with 11 points, including this big dunk:

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4. Speaking of Oubre, he helped the Wizards close the first half with a late surge. The real highlight was Bradley Beal stealing the ball and hitting a corner three at the buzzer:

5. Beal ended up with 33 points, six assists and six rebounds. Here's an and-1 he got to go down in the second half:

All in all, it was an ugly performance for the Wizards. To cheer you up, we'll leave you with this young fan who had a great time at Capital One Arena despite the result:

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Wizards suffer lopsided loss against Hornets, who have had their number this season

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Wizards suffer lopsided loss against Hornets, who have had their number this season

The Washington Wizards lost to the Charlotte Hornets 122-105 on Friday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Bad matchup: Despite their poor record, there is something about this Charlotte Hornets team that gives the Wizards trouble. The Wizards lost to the Hornets (26-33) for the third time in three tries this season on Friday night and, aside from a push in the third quarter, they were never really in it.

All in all, it was a dud of a game for the Wizards who were probably due for one. They had won three straight games and eight of 10 since John Wall got injured. They were also coming off a huge road win the night before in Cleveland, a game that started an hour later than usual.

It was a tough turnaround and the Wizards sure looked like it. It was evident in their defense and unforced errors. They did, however, have a decent shooting night. They shot 49.4 percent from the field 16-for-17 from the free throw line.

The Wizards' second unit didn't provide a lift outside of Kelly Oubre, Jr. (11 points). Mike Scott, one of their best bench options, was held scoreless.

PODCAST: WHAT THE SESSIONS SIGNING MEANS FOR SATORANSKY

Ugly first half: The Wizards only trailed by 12 points at halftime, but that score was skewed by a five-point push in the final seconds. The Hornets dominated for much of the first two quarters and did so by hitting threes and forcing turnovers. Those mistakes dug the Wizards a hole they never recovered from.

The Wizards had 10 turnovers in the first half, the same amount they had in their entire game the night before. Limiting mistakes was a big reason they beat the Cavaliers, yet the script was flipped by Charlotte.

The Hornets capitalized with 23 points off those 10 first-half turnovers. The Wizards had 14 giveaways for the games that led to 28 total points. 

Charlotte was 7-for-11 from three at one point in the first half and finished 17-for-39 (43.6%) for the game. That is very uncharacteristic for the Wizards, who entered the night second in the NBA in opponents three-point percentage.

Again, though, the first half ended well as Oubre and Bradley Beal gave the Wizards a jolt in the final seconds:

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Bad defense: The Wizards have played some great defense in recent weeks, but they just didn't have it on Friday night. Most surprising were the guys that hurt them most.

Dwight Howard was limited to 11 points and six rebounds and Kemba Walker didn't score his first points until the final minute of the first half. But others like Frank Kaminsky (23 points), Marvin Williams (15 points) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14 points) got pretty much anything they wanted.

For Walker, it was a tale of two halves. He was held in check by Tomas Satoransky in the first half, but broke out in the third quarter and finished with 24 points and seven rebounds. Maybe it was tired legs on the Wizards' part, but Walker just kept dribbling until he got space and once he did, he knocked down shots.

Much like Kyle Lowry did a few weeks ago, Walker made adjustments to find success against Satoransky. We haven't seen that happen much since Wall went out, but those two have given him some trouble. Both guys are considerably smaller than Satoransky and very quick. Maybe there's something to that.

Add it all up and this was one of the worst defensive games of the season for the Wizards. They allowed their most points in a game since Jan. 17 against, you guessed it, the Hornets. Only three times this year have they given up more than what they allowed on Friday.

No Sessions: The Wizards did not debut their newest player on Friday night, which was probably to be expected given Ramon Sessions has not had any practice time yet. That is part of why he didn't play, but it's also another indication that he is unlikely to play much with the Wizards. Sessions is on a 10-day contract and is not expected to supplant either Satoransky or Tim Frazier at point guard. Frazier would seem to be the guy in danger of losing minutes, but it was business as usual for him against the Hornets.

Up next: The Wizards are off Saturday before returning to action at home against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

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