Attrition-ravaged Vandy to meet banged-up Georgia

Georgia played without starting shooting guard Kenny Gaines and his backup Juwan Parker for the Kentucky game Saturday and may have to play without either, or both, for Wednesday’s home game against Vanderbilt. At least two other Bulldogs are dealing with injury issues, so they’re a banged-up team at the moment.

But don’t expect much sympathy from the visiting Commodores. They’re just happy to be able to field a team.

Coach Kevin Stallings will bring a squad of 10 players to Stegeman Coliseum for the 7 p.m. tip. Among those are seven scholarship players and one converted manager. Rob Cross, a senior from Chappaqua, N.Y., was a team manager for 3 1/2 years before he was asked to don a uniform earlier this month.

Cross’ activation was necessary after the Commodores dismissed starting point guard Eric McClellan on Jan. 9 for violating the school’s academic policy. McClellan, the team’s leading scorer (14.3 ppg), was the fourth player Vanderbilt unexpectedly lost since the end of last season. And they all were significant contributors.

Josh Henderson, a 6-foot-11 junior center, was a starter before he was sidelined Dec. 5 with season-ending knee injury. During the offseason, Kedren Johnson was the starting point guard and leading returning scorer when he was dismissed for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, and forward Kevin Bright, last season’s leading rebounder, signed a pro contract in his home country of Germany.

That has made even more challenging what was expected to be a rebuilding season.

“We have to be mindful (of fatigue),” Stallings said as the Commodores prepared for Georgia this week. “I’ve got some good seniors. (Kyle) Fuller and (Rod) Odom are both very hard-working guys, so I can trust them to tell me how their legs feel. I’ll probably continue to err on the side of caution. Our practice times have been cut down, obviously, but we still get done what we need to get done.

“We just have to make sure they’re ready on game night. That’s what matters.”

The Commodores (10-8, 2-4 SEC) have held their own. They’re 2-3 since losing McClellan and are coming off a 66-55 road win over Texas A&M on Saturday.

“Kevin’s doing a great job and obviously has a great shooting team,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “They have great offense. (Freshman center Damian) Jones in the middle is really going to be a great player. They’re certainly a very dangerous team every year, and I think they’re playing their best basketball right now.”

Not having Gaines (bruised thigh) and Parker (hamstring) severely impacted the Bulldogs (10-8, 4-2) at Kentucky. Gaines (12.0 ppg), a 6-3 sophomore, is Georgia’s second-leading scorer and one of its more versatile playmakers. Parker, a 6-3 freshman, has developed into the Bulldogs’ second-best bench option after forward Nemi Djurisic.

Without them, and with freshman point guard J.J. Frazier nursing a sore wrist, the Bulldogs played Kentucky with four forwards and inserted forward Brandon Morris at point guard to spell starter Charles Mann.

“They’re our only (shooting) guards, and we need everyone on this team, you know,” said Morris, who led the Bulldogs with 15 points against the Wildcats. “We need every position. Everybody pitches in and everybody helps.”

Fox was encouraged by the possibility of his guards returning. They’ve received treatment twice daily every day since suffering the injuries Jan. 22 in a win over South Carolina.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have a pretty decent home winning streak to protect. They’ll go for their ninth consecutive victory at Stegeman.

“You certainly want to protect your home court,” Fox said. “Our crowds have been terrific. We’ve had really good energy in the building, and we’ve had good student support. Our crowds have been awesome, and that makes a difference, as we all know, in college basketball.”

So does having all your players.