NASHVILLE – Georgia will be trying to do something Friday night that hasn’t happened in the lifetime of any of its players, with some years to spare.
The old adage is that it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season. It’s not just talk, at least in the case of the Georgia men’s basketball team: The last time the Bulldogs beat a team three times in the same season was 1984, when the victim was Mississippi State.
That’s the backdrop for Georgia’s match-up with South Carolina in Friday’s SEC tournament quarterfinals — along with the fact that South Carolina is the higher-seeded team. So the first two Georgia wins were somewhat of an upset, anyway.
“It’s tough to beat South Carolina any time,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said after Thursday’s 79-69 win over Mississippi State. “They have a terrific team, and it’s hard to beat them any time, not to mention trying to do it a third time.”
It’s actually the same situation as last year, just in reverse.
South Carolina beat Georgia twice in the 2015 regular season, despite the Bulldogs being the team with the better record. The teams then met again in the SEC quarterfinals, with Georgia needing a win to remove any doubt about its NCAA tournament bid.
Just like South Carolina this year. Georgia hopes that’s where the parallel stops; after all, the Bulldogs won that tournament game last year to avoid the 0-for-3.
The unbalanced schedule – 12 teams in the SEC since the early 1990s, 14 since 2012 – makes it more unusual for teams to face each other three times. When Georgia faced Mississippi State on Thursday it was only their second match-up of the season. That would also be the case if Georgia plays Kentucky on Saturday.
Still, Georgia players, speaking in the locker room on Thursday night, said they understood the challenge of pulling off a three-peat.
“It makes it that much harder,” senior guard Kenny Gaines said. “They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder, seeing as how we won at their place and beat them on their senior night. So we know they’re gonna come out with all gun’s firing.”
Sophomore forward Yante Maten was asked what he expects from the Gamecocks, given what happened in the regular season.
“Fight. That’s for sure,” Maten said. “A team that’s been beaten twice, they have a bigger edge to them, because they’re like: We’re not gonna let you beat us again. We’ve gotta expect the punch, and put up our defenses and punch back.”