ATHENS — It will have been 728 days since Georgia and Texas last met in men’s basketball when the Longhorns visit Stegeman Coliseum on Saturday in the annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge. It will have been only 26 days since they last met in football.
“We should have some extra motivation,” Georgia coach Tom Crean quipped on Friday. “We need to avenge the Sugar Bowl.”
The truth is, that 28-21 football loss to Texas on New Year’s Day will be the last thing on the Bulldogs’ minds when they tip off at 2 p.m. (TV: ESPN2; radio: WSB 750-AM & 95.5 FM) before what’s expected to be a capacity crowd.
Georgia is a team that desperately needs for itself the positive reinforcement that would come from an elusive victory. There hasn’t been nearly enough of those as Georgia (9-9, 1-5 SEC) comes in having lost five of its last six games.
The trouble is, a very competitive Longhorns team coached by Shaka Smart comes in feeling exactly the same way. Texas (11-8, 3-4 Big 12) has lost its last four games by six or fewer points. That includes a 65-61 loss to TCU on Wednesday in which the Longhorns were within three with 22 seconds to play.
“Across the board in college basketball, you get to this point in the season there is some sort of mental fatigue,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “Whether it’s frustration or temporarily feeling sorry for yourself or not being quite as sharp as you need to be, certainly there’s some of that with our team. But our guys understand if we turn the ball over a couple less times, to a better job blocking out and rebounding, the outcome could be much, much different.”
As far as Georgia is concerned, it already received the most encouraging news it could have when Crean announced that Nicolas Claxton would be good to go for Saturday’s game.
The 6-foot-11 forward who leads the the Bulldogs in, well, pretty much everything, collided with teammate Jordan Harris in the final moments of the 92-82 loss to LSU this past Wednesday. He bled from inside his mouth but there was concern about him possibly suffering a concussion. Subsequent tests on that proved negative.
The picture is not quite as clear for Harris, a junior who has started the last two games at point guard. Harris is apparently still feeling some effects from the collision and his status for Saturday’s game remained undecided on Friday.
“We’re still waiting on Jordan to see how that goes, but Nic responded well,” Crean said. “We’ve got to go through all of that. … We’ll have a better indication as we get into (Saturday) and see how that goes. Those kind of things a lot of time become really day-to-day situations. It’s not like when something’s broke and you can try to put a timeline on it. This is different, so we’ll just see how it goes.”
Either way, Georgia has to continue to play better. The Bulldogs looked significantly better in the second half against LSU, when they out-scored the No. 25-ranked Tigers 46-42 and shot 53.6 for the game. But the key now is putting together two halves. Uneven play on either side of halftime also cost the Bulldogs in home a loss to Florida last weekend.
Nevertheless, enthusiasm for Georgia basketball and its direction under Crean remains decidedly optimistic on campus. The Bulldogs are getting huge support from the UGA students and already have recorded eight sellouts. Georgia’s average attendance for its 10 home games in 10,500-seat Stegeman Coliseum is 8,605. That’s the school’s highest since 2003-04.
“We are going to need them a lot,” sophomore forward Rayshaun Hammonds said of the home crowd. “We are going to need them to bring the energy for us. We have been thankful for them for coming to the last couple of games and selling them out. We need them to come with a lot of energy and bring more spirit to the game and to the team.”
As for that whole needing to avenge Texas thing, Crean was just kidding. While he’s the consummate football fan and hated seeing Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs go down in New Orleans, this is all about Georgia basketball taking care of its own business.
“I haven’t asked anybody over in football, but I feel responsible for that,” Crean said sarcastically. “So we need the fans to feel the same way I do. Georgia needs some victory over Texas right now. That’s what we need, and we’re excited for it. I think we’re going to be extremely excited for it. It’s going to be a great crowd, it’s going to be loud. … I mean we’re excited to play, there’s no doubt about it. It’s a Saturday afternoon. We’ll have a lot of recruits here. Bottom line is we need to come out and be extremely aggressive.”