ATHENS – It was obvious from the start there was something different about this Georgia team on Saturday. Especially Kenny Gaines.
“I just feel like I played desperate,” Gaines said. “That was kind of the team’s motto. I wanted to play desperate.”
And by so doing Gaines and UGA served a reminder of how good they can be when they play their best. Playing as well as it has in a long time, Georgia beat Ole Miss, 80-66 on Saturday at Stegeman Coliseum.
It ended a three-game losing streak for the Bulldogs (15-12 overall, 8-8 in the SEC), and provides some hope for a strong finish in the next two weeks.
“We’re just on a mission. We’re back, fully-locked in,” Gaines said.
1. GAINES COMES TO PLAY, PART I
All things considered, this was among the best games Gaines has had in a Georgia uniform.
After a slump that has basically lasted for six games, the senior guard was a different player on Saturday. All 23 of Gaines’ points were critical: He had a team-high 12 in the first half, then the first eight points of the second half for Georgia, keeping his team in the game as Ole Miss drained 3s. When Georgia fell down by eight, Gaines hit a 3 to spur the run that would put his team back ahead.
Gaines also didn’t have any turnovers.
In the previous six games, Gaines’ scoring average had dipped massively, and he only had three points in the first half at Auburn, before leading the unsuccessful comeback with 20 second-half points.
He didn’t wait this time.
“At the end of games, we tend to kind of rally back into it after climbing back from a big deficit,” Gaines said. “So we kind of wanted to start out like that from the jump and play desperate the whole game.”
2. GAINES COMES TO PLAY, PART II
Ole Miss star guard Stefan Moody appeared tired at times, the effect of a long season. But Gaines’ defense had something to do with it on Saturday.
Gaines, isolated on Moody, guarded him very well early on, swatting away one of his driving layup attempts. Moody’s first basket came with Gaines out of the game. He didn’t score with Gaines in the game until the 8:08 mark.
Moody fouled out with 15 points, which was 14 less than he had in Ole Miss’ win over Georgia last month.
“Certainly Moody looks a little bit worn down,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “He’s a great player. But Kenny’s defense was certainly key for us.”
3. GOOD START, FINALLY
Three days earlier, Georgia had suffered its worst loss of the season, at lowly Auburn, thanks to falling behind by 18 in the first half. Those poor starts have happened plenty of other times in this disappointing season.
This time the Bulldogs came through, jumping ahead right away, and leading by as many as 13 in the first half. Five different players accounted for Georgia’s first seven baskets, and the team was playing hard on both ends.
“We were just flat all-around,” sophomore Yante Maten said of the Auburn game. “We didn’t have any life to us. We all did see that. We all met with Coach, and we said we need to figure out what’s wrong and fix it right now, because we’re not gonna be able to beat any good teams playing how we’ve been playing lately. We came together and decided we needed to come with energy.”
4. OVERCOMING THE OLE MISS RUN
Ole Miss came into the game having won three of four and five of its last seven. It didn’t go away easily in this one, going on a 16-2 run late in the first half to briefly take the lead. The Rebels then hit a barrage of 3s early in the second half to take a 59-51 lead.
Gaines came up big again, nailing a 3. But from there it was mostly Frazier, whose 3-pointer gave Georgia a 52-51 lead, and then hit more 3s to help push the leads to nine and 11.
But Frazier and the Bulldogs kept it going, eventually taking a 13-point lead on a strong layup by Maten, who fought through defenders near the hoop. The Rebels never made it a game after that.
5. THE BIG PICTURE
Frazier was asked what this performance said to him.
“We’re a good team,” he said.
Did what happened Wednesday spur them differently than other losses did this season?
“We had some losses where we were really heartbroken. But I think that was a different way, because we didn’t leave it out there. We didn’t give everything we had,” Frazier said.
But did this come too late in the season to matter? Maten was asked that question.
“No. As long as we’ve got games to play, we’re gonna keep fighting,” Maten said.