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Felton left speechless by Georgia's amazing run to NCAA tourney

ATLANTA - Dennis Felton had nothing to say Monday, which was certainly understandable.

No one could blame the Georgia coach for being speechless about his team's improbable, inspiring, unprecedented run through the Southeastern Conference's tornado tournament.

Actually, though, Felton's silent treatment wasn't by choice. After prodding and cajoling the Bulldogs to heights no one could have imagined just four days earlier, he finally gave out.

'He has no voice, not even a little growl,' assistant coach Pete Herrmann said. 'He's trying to get that back.'

Better hurry, coach. There's another game to play on Thursday.

Georgia (17-16) is heading to the NCAAs for the first time since 2002, a seemingly lost season turned upside down when the Bulldogs won the SEC tournament and an automatic bid.

To call it a miracle might be a bit of a stretch. But not by much.

'You're talking about one of the more incredible stories in college basketball this season, maybe the best,' Florida coach Billy Donovan marveled. 'Their story is the kind of thing you talk about when you go out to give motivational speeches, when you have a mountain to climb and don't think you can climb it. The mountain they climbed as a program, as a team, is truly remarkable.'

After winning only four SEC games during the regular season, the Bulldogs matched that total during four thrilling, frightening, frustrating and ultimately glorious days in Atlanta.

The story will be told for years to come:

A last-place team and a coach fighting for his job win their first game on a shot that drops with less than a second to go in overtime. Then, while waiting to play the following night, a tornado rips through the Georgia Dome on its destructive march through downtown Atlanta. The game is postponed and the tournament is hastily moved a much-smaller venue at nearby Georgia Tech - the Bulldogs' bitter in-state rival.

From there, it only gets better. Much to Felton's chagrin, the SEC draws up a new schedule that has one team playing a doubleheader Saturday. That turns out to be Georgia, which beats Kentucky for the first time ever in the conference tournament, again going to OT. The Bulldogs sneak in a nap, then return six hours later to knock off Mississippi State, which won the SEC West.

Georgia catches a bit of a break when regular-season champ Tennessee is eliminated in the semifinals, but there's still NCAA-bound Arkansas waiting in the championship game. Playing their third game in less than 28 hours, the Bulldogs race out to an early 19-point lead and hold on to win the conference tourney for the first time since 1983.

Next up is third-seeded Xavier in the opening round of the NCAAs.

'They never stopped believing in themselves,' Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. 'That was no smoke and mirrors. They were better on four nights than all four teams they played against.'

In a sense, this makes up for the NCAA tournament Georgia missed in 2003. The Bulldogs won 19 games that year and surely would have received a postseason bid, but allegations of major wrongdoing began to emerge late in the season. Coach Jim Harrick's son sent illicit payments to a player, and also taught a sham course that turned Georgia into a national laughingstock.