NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Yante Maten’s voice was low. He didn’t look up as he spoke. He gripped at his knee and kept his answers short.
One day after a happy return to the court, Maten struggled and so did his Georgia team as it fell, 71-60, to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals.
It likely will cost Georgia its main goal for the season: an NCAA Tournament bid. And in what may have been the most important game of the season, the team’s two stars struggled. Maten and J.J. Frazier combined to make 7 of 28 shots from the floor.
“I just think I could have played a lot better,” Maten said. “Not turn the ball over, made some more shots.”
Asked if the knee was an issue, he said “no” and didn’t elaborate.
Maten sprained his right knee against Kentucky on Feb. 18 and missed the following four games. When he returned Thursday, he helped Georgia get by Tennessee and qualify for the quarterfinal Friday. But when Kentucky and its taller post defenders got physical down low, Maten couldn’t get clean looks.
“All credit to them, they scouted us pretty well. They weren’t making it easy,” Maten said. “But like I said before, I should’ve finished a lot of shots.”
Maten made 2 shots around the basket. He also hit a 3-pointer and made 5 free throws. Coach Mark Fox said he thought Maten “had some clean looks,” but they just didn’t go in. Maten agreed, but his fellow Bulldogs star was more critical of himself.
“Yan is only a game back from injury. So all these expectations are just tough on him,” Frazier said. “I didn’t do my part as well as I needed to. I didn’t make enough shots to put us in position to win. It’ll be like that sometimes.”
Frazier was also the focus of Kentucky’s defense, as Isaiah Briscoe and others never let Frazier get any space. After Frazier almost single-handedly beat Kentucky in February, scoring 36 points, Kentucky was determined not to let that happen again.
The result was Frazier going 4-for-17 from the floor, missing all 3 of his 3-point attempts.
“They loaded up on me pretty well,” Frazier said. “They didn’t give me any clean looks, so lots of my looks were really difficult. It was just one of those nights where I wasn’t in a great rhythm and the ball didn’t go in for me.”