ATHENS – A few Georgia basketball players and their coach were asked to sum up the mood around the team, given the seemingly bleak state of things. The best answer seemed to come from Yante Maten, the sophomore forward.
“It’s not bad. It’s not good,” he said.
Two nights before, Maten had watched as his team blew a halftime lead and lost at Baylor, yet another disappointing loss in a season that’s been full of them. Too full to have Georgia anywhere near its preseason goal – reasonable at the time – to get a second straight NCAA tournament bid.
Now the situation, very obviously, is urgent. Georgia (11-8 overall) must go on a big run down the stretch, starting with Tuesday’s game against South Carolina – which, by the way, comes in with just two losses and ranked No. 24 in the country. Georgia has not defeated an AP-ranked team in more than two years, when it won at Missouri.
“We realize to get to where we wanna go we’ve gotta play a little bit better, and win a couple big games, and win some more games,” Gaines said. “Play consistently, and we’ll be where we want to be.”
Gaines spoke calmly. When pressed whether there had been any team meetings about the situation, any grand speeches, he smiled and shook his head.
“We’re fine,” he said.
Head coach Mark Fox also projected calm.
“We haven’t changed our disposition,” Fox said. “We knew, especially with the way we scheduled that there would be no easy games, and every game would be a grinder.”
Georgia’s record isn’t impressive at all, but it feels it’s much better than 11-8, and has reason to believe so. The Bulldogs have lost five of those eight games by a combined 16 points, and had a halftime lead in a sixth game, at Baylor.
Beating South Carolina, then winning the next one, also at home against Auburn, would at least put Georgia back in decent position. But that will require the Bulldogs plugging some big holes right now.
The second-half defense in the past three games has been very poor. So the emphasis the past two days has been on playing well on both sides of the court at all times.
“Sometimes out offense is going real well, and we’re lacking on the defensive side,” Maten said. “We need to play more stable basketball.”
It would help to keep Maten in the game. He’s only played 20 minutes each of the past two games because of foul trouble, and so far there’s been no consistent play from any other post players.
It would also help immensely to get more production from the bench, as well as the fifth starting spot. That’s been a problem for awhile now.
Throw in the offensive struggles of senior Charles Mann, and the Bulldogs remain a work in progress at what’s becoming a very late point in the season.
“We’re trying to encourage each other to keep going, because this happened last year too, that’s just part of basketball,” Maten said. “We lost two games in a row. So we’ve just gotta make sure we bounce back.”
But last year Georgia was in pretty good shape as far as its NCAA tournament. This year that’s not the case.
“I’ve got faith in my team. I’m sure can make something happen,” Maten said. “We’ve just gotta win.”