Georgia coach Tom Crean meets with the media Jan. 14, 2020 in Athens.

With Tennessee in town, Georgia needs to grow up fast

A week after knocking off No. 9 Memphis on the road, Georgia (10-5, 0-2 SEC) was dismantled by No. 5 Auburn at Auburn Arena. That blowout followed a close loss at home to No. 14 Kentucky, one that was also borne of fundamental breakdowns at critical moments.

Enter the Volunteers (10-5, 2-1), who seem to have found their footing after an uneven start in non-conference play. The Christmas-holiday addition of a midseason enrollee Santiago Vescovi of Uruguay (14.3 ppg) has helped.

As for Georgia, poor defense and rebounding along with some spotty free-throwing shooting has spoiled a once-promising start to the New Year.

“I think we’re going to become a broken record with this, but every game you play you see more and more how important rebounding is in this league and how good people are at it,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said. “It’s not just something that you do, it’s a way that you live. I think that’s what’s different in this league. They live on the glass. Auburn lived on the glass. Kentucky lives on the glass. We have to learn how to live on the glass.”

Just making a few more free throws wouldn’t hurt either. Georgia went to the free-throw line an impressive 33 times against the Tigers on the Plains, then made barely half of them (17). Many of those were missed by star freshman Anthony “Ant Man” Edwards, who made 4 of 11 and scored the majority of his 18 points in the second half of what had become a lopsided game.

Such breakdowns shouldn’t be unexpected with a young team learning the rigors the SEC. The Bulldogs feature 10 newcomers, including nine freshmen.

But 15 games into the season, they have to grow up fast.

“We played two good teams, two great teams, actually,” junior Rayshaun Hammonds said. “That was a learning experience, seeing what it’s like to play in the SEC, crashing the glass, being physical. We just have to learn from it, move on and be ready for Tennessee.”

Said freshman Toumani Camara: “It’s just about confidence and doing what you know how to do.”

Confidence is a word that came up a lot during interview sessions conducted before Monday’s practice at the Coliseum Training Facility. Crean talked about a back-to-basics approach the Bulldogs had been taking in workouts. He has been trying to remind his young team of the things that have to be done on a game-to-game basis, regardless of whether shots or free throws are going in the basket.

There also is the reality of coming out of a stretch of playing three consecutive top-14 opponents and still having the second half of January to get through.

“Yesterday, probably the first 15 minutes of our practice was spent just on shooting and driving the ball, building the offense. It wasn’t scrimmaging,” Crean said. “We have to keep building their confidence because no matter what we do defensively, no matter what we do rebounding the ball-wise, no matter what our players are no different than the majority of other players -- they get a dose of energy we see that ball go through the basket. … When they're not scoring or the shots not going through for them, that's college basketball.

“How quickly you get over disappointment and don't let it turn into discouragement, is the key to your growth.”

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