So far, SEC teams are learning that Georgia is a pretty-good 35-minute basketball team. But down the stretch, this young Bulldogs team has looked tired, sloppy and imminently beatable.
So what gives?
“I think we’re just getting fatigued because we’re not very deep,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We needed a couple of days of rest this week, and I think that is going to help us tremendously.”
Georgia battled Mississippi State in Starkville last Saturday, outplaying the maroon Bulldogs for most of the game. But similar to what happened against Kentucky and Ole Miss, Georgia wasn’t able to close strong and hold on for the win.
But that was last Saturday. With Georgia not having a mid-week game this week, tired legs got some rest and relaxation, while Tennessee was laboring through a hard-fought game at Alabama.
And with two of the first three conference games on the road, Fox babied his bench a little.
“It’s crazy that we’re having to bring in a backup point guard who is a freshman; two of the three wing players are freshmen, and the other is a sophomore who didn’t play much last year,” Fox said. “With the bench so young on the perimeter, I wasn’t sure they were quite ready for league games on the road. But they’re going to have to be ready to play, and I’m going to have to let them play through some mistakes. They’ve worked hard. I can’t fault them for their effort, but we need them to continue to grow.”
They won’t be growing taller though, and that might be a problem Saturday.
Tennessee's senior big man Wayne Chism, leads Tennessee in scoring once again. But it’s the Volunteers’ overall size that makes them tough to defend. All but one of their top six players are 6-foot-7 or taller.
“Tennessee is a big, physical team, and I think that suits our style of game,” Georgia center Albert Jackson said. “Their guards are bigger than ours, but I think our frontline matches up with theirs. We’re physical, too, and we’re looking forward to that challenge.”
With a week between games, and with the Bulldogs needing the confidence that only a win can bring, Georgia likely will ride the starting five hard again today. And that’s fine with Jackson.
“It was great to have that bye week, as I call it, because we really have gotten our legs under us again and had some time to refresh our minds and bodies,” he said.
But playing at Stegeman Coliseum means Fox might turn to Vincent Williams or even Ebuka Anyaorah to spell Dustin Ware at the point.
Regardless, against a scrappy and stout Tennessee defense, it’s going to take a big game from guys that Fox already knows he can count on. Trey Thompkins is showing that he can score and rebound with anyone, and little by little, so is Travis Leslie, who is scoring almost 14 points per game.
“He’s been a good rebounder all along, someone who has a lot of highlights,” Fox said. “But what I like is that he is starting to make more and more of the unspectacular ones. His development is key for this team.”
Like Jackson, Thompkins believes the Bulldogs’ inside players can muscle up against anyone.
“Tennessee is great inside, but we think we’re pretty good, too,” he said. “We know how good Chism is, but we had a great week of practice, and we’re ready for it.”
And nothing would do more for this team’s confidence than a win over a top-10 SEC team.
“It's been a little frustrating to be so close like that, but knowing how close you are to being a team that can win against good SEC teams is also uplifting," Jackson said. "But we need to put one in the win column. I think the way we’ve played is fueling us to work harder and take more responsibility for our play.”