ATHENS — Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean is referring to it as an “opportunity” game when the Bulldogs take on SEC powerhouse Auburn.
Bruce Pearl looks at it as a “must-win” for his Tigers.
Georgia (12-13, 2-10 SEC) plays against No. 13-ranked Auburn (22-3, 9-3) at 7 p.m. with a sold-out crowd awaiting the tip at Stegeman Coliseum (TV: ESPN2).
“We have tremendous opportunity (Wednesday) with Auburn, and the way that they’re playing,” Crean said. “They pose numerous challenges as most everybody else in this league does, but especially the way they’re playing.
“The way they’re getting fouled right now, the way their offensive rebounding the ball, extremely high levels, playing extremely fast, aggressive. They play with great confidence and are playing like a veteran team.”
Auburn is coming off a shocking 85-73 road loss to Missouri. The defeat could be attributed to a 1-of-17 shooting night beyond the 3-point arc.
Pearl’s team did, however, get to the free-throw line to attempt an eye-popping 46 free throws.
“I look at it this way: the Georgia game is a must-win if we’re going to stay in this conference championship race,” Pearl said.
Kentucky is a game up on Auburn with its Tuesday night win over LSU.
“(Georgia is a) tough place to play, hard to win on the road, but if we’re going to be in this conference championship race, we have to win the game,” Pearl said. “Strong statement with seven games left, but I’ve always kept it real with my team.”
Georgia expects to have a healthy Anthony Edwards primed for the meeting.
Edwards, recently projected by ESPN to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has been battling flu-like symptoms during the Bulldogs’ four-game losing streak.
Crean stressed the importance of team focus for the upcoming game.
Junior forward Rayshaun Hammonds has shown signs of returning to form after going through a self-admitted slump.
Freshman point guard Sahvir Wheeler appears recovered from an ankle injury that slowed him during the team’s four-game losing streak the second half of January.
If the Bulldogs can get Edwards, Hammonds and Wheeler healthy and playing well at the same time, it would greatly improve the team’s chances for a strong finish.
“We just need to focus on playing well,” Crean said. “Like playing longer stretches together, talking through it, playing with confidence not, you know, not waiting for the bottom to fall out right and that’s what happens sometimes with teams it’s just keeps playing.”
A loud home crowd could go a long way for the Bulldogs on Wednesday night with the team looking to snap out of a funk that’s seen it lose eight of the last nine games.
Auburn won the first meeting between the teams this season, 82-60, on Jan. 11 in Auburn.
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