ATHENS — Georgia coach Tom Crean always talks to his team about “taking what the game gives you,” but on Saturday night at Mississippi State, UGA might need a different approach.
Indeed, Crean’s young and undersized team will have to take even when the game isn’t giving them any breaks or advantages.
Coach Ben Howland’s maroon-clad Bulldogs lead the SEC in rebounding margin, the very area Crean’s vertically challenged canines are most often challenged to measure up.
“I mean, every game we come in here talking about how important the rebounding is and now we’re playing the league leader,” said Georgia coach Tom Crean, who has just two players 6-foot-9 or taller. “That part of it is tough.”
Mississippi State features two starters who are even taller, center Abdul Ado (6-11, 255) and power forward Reggie Perry (6-10, 250).
The teams tip off at 8:30 p.m. (TV: SEC Network) at the so-called “Hump.” Officially known as Humphrey Coliseum, Mississippi State’s arena — which some say resembles a cake from the outside — has a smaller, intimate setting similar to Stegeman Coliseum with a capacity of 10,575.
Georgia brings an 11-5 overall mark and 1-2 SEC record into the action. Mississippi State is 10-6 and 1-3 in league play.
UGA is looking for what would be its first consecutive league wins under Crean, who is now in his second season.
Georgia is also looking to play its way into NCAA tournament contention, and it will likely take a .500 record in league play — or better — for that to happen.
It’s Crean’s first trip to Starkville, and he may be forced to make it without the playing services of Sahvir Wheeler, who fellow freshman Anthony Edwards refers to as “the heart of the team.”
Wheeler suffered an ankle injury in the second half of Georgia’s resounding 80-63 blowout win over Tennessee.
Crean made it clear on Friday that Wheeler is questionable, having just managed to walk through the Thursday workout.
“You just have to deal with it, and if he can’t it is what it is,” Crean said. “You just go. Right? That’s why you try to develop and try to get multi-dimensional versatile guys. Obviously he’s a huge factor.”
If Wheeler is out, Georgia will rely more heavily on senior graduate transfer Donnell Gresham along with Edwards at the point.
Edwards, named a second-team, mid-season All-American by the Sporting News earlier this week, is averaging 19.1 points per game this season, second in the SEC.
Georgia, with its size deficiency, will also need another signature performance from 6-9, 245-pound junior Rayshaun Hammonds.
Hammonds is averaging 14.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, and he’s coming off a 21-point, 5-rebound in the win over the Vols.
Mississippi State represents UGA’s fifth-straight game against teams that played in the NCAA tournament last season.
The Bulldogs are 2-2 in the past four, winning on the road against then-No. 9 Memphis 65-62 on Jan. 4 and hammering Tennessee in Athens on Wednesday night.
The losses were to No. 13 Kentucky (78-69) and then-No. 5 Auburn (82-60).
Last year’s home loss to Mississippi State featured one of the most bizarre endings in Stegeman Coliseum history.
A small stuffed bulldog toy was thrown on the court in the final moments, resulting in a technical foul that helps swing the game State’s way, 68-67.
Georgia had rallied from 17 down to tie the game at 67-67.
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