ATHENS – Either an elevator wasn’t available, or Yante Maten figured he could handle the staircase, even on crutches. So Georgia’s injured star forward went gingerly up the steps – a lot of them – at Georgia’s basketball facility on Tuesday. A few times, his frustration was evident, as Maten grimaced and shook his head.
But eventually he made it all the way up.
“Yante’s hanging in there,” said Mike Edwards, a fellow Michigan native and probably Maten’s replacement in the starting lineup. “He’s still hurting a little bit. But he should get better soon.”
But not soon enough. Maten, who sprained ligaments in his knee less than two minutes into last Saturday’s loss to Kentucky, is almost certainly done for the final two weeks of the regular season. And based on how he looked navigating those stairs on Tuesday, the SEC tournament looks like a longshot too.
“The best part of it is he doesn’t require surgery,” head coach Mark Fox said. “Obviously the worst part of it is it’s going to take time to heal, and we don’t have a lot of time right now.”
This was supposed to be a season of contending for an NCAA bid. Barring a miraculous finish – miraculous considering Maten’s absence – Georgia (15-12 overall, 6-8 in the SEC) won’t make it there. Two of its remaining regular-season games are both still winnable: Home against LSU and Auburn. But road trips to Alabama (on Thursday night) and Arkansas were going to be tough to begin with, and are now even tougher.
That said, Georgia did show what it can do without Maten by nearly knocking off Kentucky. And it also played without him down the stretch of the win at Tennessee.
J.J. Frazier, the senior guard who poured in 35 points against Kentucky, answered “I don’t think so” when asked if he’ll have to continue to score like that for Georgia to have a chance. He pointed to good supporting performances from teammates.
“The game against Kentucky, one, two, three, four guys showed up when we needed to. We just couldn’t close,” Frazier said. “If my guys play like that for the rest of the year we’re going to be in good shape.”
One of those is Edwards, the sophomore who was more a rebounding and defensive help off the bench, then had 10 points against Kentucky. He is averaging 4.3 points and 3. 8 rebounds per game. Maten is averaging 18.7 and 6.9.
“We started putting in a couple more things, because obviously it’s going to change the rotation with the way we do things,” Edwards said. “The plan our coach has is going to work well with our situation.”
Fox mentioned Monday that without Maten the team would have to “reinvent” itself, but a day later he was saying they couldn’t completely do that. Instead, they would have to “re-design some things,” with players having to step into bigger roles.
But ultimately, Fox added, his guys couldn’t “play out of character.”
“We haven’t had the breaks of the game fall our way. Those things over time even out,” Fox said. “Our effort just has to keep playing until they start to.”