Time’s running out on ‘Ant Man Show’ at Georgia

Georgia Bulldogs coach Tom Crean talks about keeping his team focused on what lies ahead as it prepares for the next game. (Video by Chip Towers)

Georgia’s marketing department has done a great job of attracting fans to Stegeman Coliseum this season. Wednesday night’s game against No. 13 Auburn will be the seventh sellout of the season for the Bulldogs. That’s fairly incredible considering they’ll send a losing team onto the floor against one seeking its 23rd victory.

Of course, the player known as “Ant Man” probably deserves an assist for UGA’s strong attendance. There will be only two home games left for Anthony Edwards after this one. The opportunity to see a projected NBA lottery pick in action for the Bulldogs is quickly running out.

In case anybody has forgotten why there’s virtually no chance of the 18-year-old Edwards returning for a sophomore season at Georgia, ESPN reminded them on Tuesday, moving him to No. 1 in their latest NBA mock draft.

For some perspective, Zion Williamson signed a $44.2 million contract when he came out of Duke after his freshman season, the first $20 million of which was guaranteed.

Just for the sake of conversation, Georgia coach Tom Crean was asked Tuesday if he had or would spend even a minute talking to Edwards about the prospect of playing another year in college.

“I don’t read mock drafts,” Crean snapped. “I see Twitter here and there, but I don’t even read those. No, we’re focused on today and how he can be improved and get his energy back where it’s got to be and play to the level he’s capable of.”

Edwards hasn’t looked like a lottery pick in his past couple of outings, but there’s a good reason for that. He played against South Carolina and Texas A&M with the flu, and might’ve already been showing the effects in the game before against Alabama. His shooting statistics certainly showed signs of infection as Edwards went 2-for-20 from 3-point range during that stretch. He tied his season-low of six points in the loss to the Aggies on Saturday, playing his second-fewest minutes of the season and only two of the final 10 even while the Bulldogs were blowing yet another lead.

Of course, Georgia (12-13, 2-10 SEC) has lost eight of its past nine games, which is enough to make anybody sick. But having to fight a flu strain in the locker room is the latest obstacle to befall this seemingly cursed team.

“We’ve got a lot of guys right now – we’ve got staff, we’ve got players – that are dealing with illness,” said Crean, himself treated for the contagion last week. “We’ve a lot of people taking medicine right now. Everybody seemed to get through it yesterday, but we didn’t have everybody at full tilt. So, we’ll see.”

Georgia’s other maladies this season have been turnovers, rebounding and long offensive and defensive lapses, with Edwards’ lack of production often at the center of the droughts. That is not to say the 6-foot-5 guard has been unproductive. He continues to lead the nation’s freshmen with a 19.0 points per game.

With at least seven games remaining in the season, Edwards sits fourth on Georgia’s all-time charts in freshman scoring, with 474 points. That’s seven shy of Litterial Green at No. 3 and 41 short of Jumaine Jones’ 515. Unless the Bulldogs get on some extended postseason run, Edwards likely won’t catch Jacky Dorsey’s freshman record of 646 in 1975.

Notably absent from that list is the greatest Bulldog of all time, Dominique Wilkins. But Wilkins played only 16 games his freshman season of 1979-80. A knee injury sidelined him late that season. He finished with 297 points, which was an average of 18.6 points.

While Wilkins’ teams never achieved anything approaching greatness, they were all competitive. That first team went 14-13 and 11-4 with a healthy Wilkins in the lineup. His next two teams each went 19-12, with the ’82 squad reaching the NIT semifinals.

Though Wilkins would average 23.6 and 21.3 points, respectively, as a sophomore and junior, the Bulldogs never truly took off until Wilkins had left for the pros. Georgia famously won 24 games and made it to the Final Four in 1982-83, their first without “the Human Highlight Film.”

It was theorized then that the Bulldogs were less dependent on the scoring production of one player that season. Could something similar be handicapping Georgia this season?

“He’s definitely a big piece of the puzzle,” said fellow freshman Toumani Camara, who averages 6.2 points and 4.2 rebounds as a 6-8 forward. “When he’s not in there, we’re not the same thing. But it’s a little bit of everybody; everybody fills out the picture. Everybody on the team matters.”

The Bulldogs have been good enough to build double-figures leads on almost everybody they’ve played this season, only to give it all back and then some in the second half. It’s a trend that’s both encouraging and maddening. Now it seems almost psychosomatic.

“We need to play as close to a complete – not mistake-free, not perfect – game as we can possibly play,” Crean said. “That’s really, if we had to put it in a nutshell, that’s what’s hurt us. We’ve had too many stretches that have hurt us when we’ve been right there to win a game, and we’ve got to be able to overcome.”

Getting two fully productive halves out of Edwards would certainly help. Crean believes the guard who has NBA scouts drooling is close to being completely well now.

“I think it definitely affected his week,” Crean said of Edwards’ recent lull. “He can bring a lot of confidence to your team and he’s better and I fully anticipate he’s going to be much better (Wednesday). But, the bottom line is, he’s 18.”

Neither Edwards nor Georgia will get any sympathy from Auburn, which put an 82-60 hurting on the then-completely-healthy Bulldogs on Jan. 11 on the Plains. The Tigers (22-3, 9-3) have an SEC championship and NCAA seeding on their minds. They’ve won five consecutive over UGA and held Edwards to two first-half points in the last meeting before he got loose for another 16 after the outcome was no longer in question.

“Nothing’s changed; we’re just in a slump right now,” senior guard Tyree Crump said. “I don’t think anybody’s given up. I think we’ve just gotta win one game.”

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