There has been more Georgia basketball talk about growing up. More talk about communication. And, more talk about being so close.
But Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean knows it’s really all about the action, and his young team is due to put its words and intentions into motion.
The Bulldogs (12-11, 2-8 SEC) play host to South Carolina (14-9, 6-4) at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday coming off yet another heartbreaking defeat, falling 105-102 in overtime to Alabama last Saturday.
Georgia is 10-3 in Stegeman Coliseum this season. The Bulldogs will need every decibel of support the home crowd can muster against the Gamecocks.
South Carolina has won six of its past eight games, while UGA has dropped 6 of 7 since beating Tennessee 80-63 on Jan. 15.
Georgia’s lack of defense, particularly 6-foot-9, 245-pound junior Rayshaun Hammonds at the rim, has been the most glaring shortcoming on a team filled with nine freshmen.
Hammonds, once considered the 51st best prospect in the nation (247Sports) coming out of Norcoss, has had a disappointing season.
Crean said before the season he needed to see toughness and leadership out of Hammonds, but the junior power forward has often disappeared against better competition.
“We have to grow up, including me, and be honest with each other,” Hammonds said on Tuesday at a UGA availability, per a school release.
Crean offered a blunt assessment on Hammonds on Tuesday.
“He’s got to play consistently harder and longer,” Crean said. “I think what he’s got to do, is he’s got to continue to be even more engaged defensively.”
Crean appears to be doing all he can to draw more inspired play from Hammonds, whose collegiate career has been marked with up and down play.
The good news is that the Bulldogs have several other players growing more consistent and providing great effort in each contest.
Freshman point guard Sahvir Wheeler is a creative playmaker and positive force who makes everyone around him better.
“I think we are focusing on getting better,” Wheeler said at the UGA availability. “There have been a few possessions here and there that have cost us the game. Obviously anytime we step on the court, I know my teammates feel the same, we believe we can win the game.”
Freshman Anthony Edwards, a projected lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft, is another playmaker who can score inside and out.
Edwards, a 6-foot-5 combo guard, has stepped up his game to lead the team in rebounding of late. He did so against Alabama despite playing with flu-like symptoms.
Edwards is also the top scoring freshman in the nation, averaging 19.7 points per game.
It’s clear Georgia needs Hammonds to apply his 6-foot-9, 245-pound frame in the paint where the team is lacking, rather than stand on the perimeter looking for 3-point shots.
When Hammonds doesn’t show up on defense or on the boards, the team is in trouble.
Alabama coach Nate Oats said as much, explaining at one point in his postgame press conference, “they don’t have a pretty good rim protecter.”
South Carolina is one of the better-coached teams in the league and will make Georgia pay for mistakes and lack of execution.
“They hurt us last year with transition offense, (so) we have to do a great job of getting back,” Crean said. “They’re very physical and they make it tough for you to run your half court offense with the denials and the way they get into the bodies of the screeners. They know what they want to do.”
Martin is in his eighth year leading South Carolina, less than three years removed from leading the Gamecocks to a Final Four and a school-record 26 wins in 2016-17.