ATHENS — If the Georgia Bulldogs are going to get over the hump and finally win a game against Florida in Gainesville on Saturday, it’s a good bet that Jordan Harris will have much to do with it.
The junior from Iron City has had a lot to do with the Bulldogs’ improved play of late. No, they remain winless in the month of February and in SEC play since Jan. 9. But Georgia (10-18, 1-14 SEC) also has come tantalizingly close to breaking their record-breaking losing streak.
The latest setback came 78-75 at the hands of rival Auburn at Stegeman Coliseum. It was the Bulldogs’ fourth consecutive, last-possession loss and they’ve come by an average of 2.25 points, including two one-pointers
Perhaps it’s a coincidence — then again, perhaps it’s not – that each of those games happened to be the most productive games of Harris’ career. The 6-foot-4 guard set career highs in scoring in each time out — 12 points vs. LSU on Feb. 16, 13 vs. Mississippi State on Feb. 20, 15 at Ole Miss on Feb. 23 and 18 against Auburn.
It’s definitely not a coincidence that Harris’ minutes have gone up as well. He played a season-high 33 minutes against Ole Miss last Saturday and 28 against Auburn. He’s now 17.92 minutes a game. That’s up significantly from the first of the calendar year, when Harris was averaging a little over 10.
Harris’ playing time increased after a meeting with Crean in which he asked what he needed to do to play more.
“It didn’t start with you need to score more or defend more,” Crean said. “It was, ‘you’ve got to rebound better. You have to rebound more. You’re as good an athlete as there is on this team and you need to rebound the ball with confidence and a vengeance.’ The good ones think everything’s theirs and when they don’t get it, they want the next one. He’s rebounding that way now.”
While it hasn’t always reflected in the box score, Harris is definitely rebounding better. He had six against Auburn and 11 against Ole Miss. Meanwhile, there have been outings of eight once, seven twice and six three times in SEC play since that conversation with Crean.
Giving his coach what he asked for has given Harris more confidence, his coach more confidence in him and now has spread throughout his game.
“Just being healthy, being confident, working on my game,” Harris said of his improved play. “I’ve been trying to do a better job of finding my sweet spot, where I like to score the ball, and just watching a lot of film and listening to the coaches and the guys around who are telling me what they need from me.”
That has been good for Harris and it bodes well for both his and Georgia’s future. In the meantime, though, Georgia has to figure out how to pull out a win at the end of some of these close games.
That has been getting an increased amount of attention in practice.
“You want to keep putting yourself in those situations,” Crean said. “… We knew what we wanted and we just didn’t get it. So, we’ve got to keep reviewing that. We look at it on film, we look at it on the floor and keep at it for what we think is going to work in that next game.”
“We’ve just got to continue to grow and learn from these games,” Harris said.
Florida, like most SEC teams this season, is a tough opponent to get well against. The Gators (17-11, 9-6 SEC) have won five in a row and one of several conference teams eyeing an NCAA tournament bid. Between that and the general intensity that it is the Georgia-Florida rivalry, it’s highly unlikely that the Bulldogs are going to catch the Gators napping on them at Exactech Arena for Saturday’s 8:30 p.m. tip (TV: SEC Network; radio: WSB 750-AM & 95.5 FM).
While the ship of postseason expectations has sailed on the Bulldogs’ season, they’ve remained upbeat and engaged and desperately want some positive reinforcement for all the work they’ve put in. But if they’re going to snap what’s now one the longest SEC losing streaks in SEC history, they’re going to have to earn it on the court.
Generally, these last chance moments have been running through Georgia’s Nicolas Claxton, Tyree Crump and Rayshaun Hammonds. Perhaps they’ll look Harris’ way at some point.
His coach definitely likes the way Harris has responded to other challenges he’s sent Harris’ way.
“He’s gained confidence and he’s worked extremely hard,” Crean said. “He’s a good example of hard work, commitment to improvement, commitment to the right attitude, commitment to persevering, not getting down when things aren’t going your way, not pouting. He’s continued to build forward and I think it’s fantastic and he’s an integral part of our team.”