Bulldogs ‘praying’ Gaines returns for game at Auburn

“I’ll be praying tonight that we get Kenny.”

That was coach Mark Fox’s answer to Friday’s question about Kenny Gaines’ availability for Saturday’s road game at Auburn. He was only half-kidding.

Playing without Gaines has not been good for the Bulldogs. They’re 0-2 since losing the starting shooting guard, who suffered a severely bruised thigh in the waning moments of a 21-point win over South Carolina on Jan. 22. Georgia has since lost by 25 points on the road against Kentucky and 59-54 to an under-manned Vanderbilt team Wednesday.

“He did finally shoot some balls (Thursday), so that was a good sign,” Fox said.

Gaines, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, is Georgia’s second-leading scorer, at 12 points per game. But the Bulldogs also lost his backup, freshman Juwan Parker, to a hamstring injury, in the same game. Parker came back for the Vanderbilt game, but had a horrendous shooting night. He was 0-for-10 overall and 0-for-5 from 3-point range.

“In fairness to Juwan, we put him in the starting lineup because he was cleared,” Fox said. “But he didn’t play well because he hadn’t practiced. The value of practice is so extreme. So even if we get Kenny back, he hasn’t practiced in essentially 10 days. But I don’t know yet if he’ll be cleared. I hope we see some more progress (Friday), then (Saturday) morning he’ll be ready to roll.”

The Bulldogs (10-9, 4-3 SEC) find themselves at a critical juncture in the season. They were rolling surprisingly well before losing Wednesday’s home game to the Commodores (11-8, 3-4), who played without their top two point guards and a starting post player because of suspensions and injuries.

Fox was infuriated after the game, not just because the Bulldogs lost, but also because of how they went about their business. They shot 27 percent from the field overall and 17 percent from 3-point range. And a lot of that had to do with poor shot selection and laziness, he said. Their defense also left much to be desired.

Now the Bulldogs have to go on the road to play a game that no longer looks like a “gimme.” Auburn (9-9) was 0-6 in SEC before Thursday night’s game against Alabama. Played a day late because of Wednesday’s weather, the Tigers rolled to a 74-55 victory.

“I’ll tell you what, they’re way better than their league record,” Fox said. “They obviously played very well last night and beat a solid Alabama team pretty handily. Every game is important. We’re all bunched together, so when you drop a home game like we did, you’re not happy. But I think the fortunate thing is we have many more opportunities in front of us.”