ATHENS -- Exactly a month ago, the Georgia mens basketball team played perhaps its best game of the season and throttled South Carolina. Exactly four days ago, it played one of its worst games and was blown out at Tennessee.
So it would seem to follow that Georgia benefits greatly by its next game being Saturday at South Carolina It should also follow that its a great advantage that Georgias final five games are against teams it has already beaten this year.
Ultimately, that very well might be. But it also might not, as leading scorer Charles Mann admitted Friday.
We know were confident in the next five games we play, we can beat them if we just play well, Mann said. But theyre all going to be hungry, and theyre going to be prepared to play us, because we beat them and they want to get a split. So weve gotta come ready to play.
These final five games are a critical stretch for Georgia if it has any hopes of playing beyond the SEC tournament. The Bulldogs (14-10 overall) are 8-5 in the SEC, sitting alone in third place.
But there is a four-way tie for fourth place, so the Bulldogs could easily end up sliding. And the schedule doesnt set up as well as it might seem. Three of the five remaining games are on the road, including Saturday at South Carolina. And one of the two home games is against Missouri, which is fighting for its postseason life, too.
That makes Saturdays game at South Carolina so important for the Bulldogs. They need it for breathing room. And despite a 21-point win over the Gamecocks on Jan. 22, a sweep for Georgia is far from certain.
The Gamecocks have shown clear improvement. In their past three games, the Gamecocks have wins over Vanderbilt and Alabama and a seven-point loss at Arkansas. Taking it back further, the Gamecocks have a 28-point win over Texas A&M and three single-digit losses since their loss in Athens.
Theyre playing their best basketball of the year, Georgia head coach Mark Fox said.
Said Mann, Theyre much more confident. Theyre playing much better. They were a young team, but it seems like theyve found their rhythm a little bit. Same for us: Weve found our rhythm. We know what were capable of doing if we play well.
And thats the key: If they play well.
Last year, Georgia had mostly close losses in SEC play. This year, the Bulldogs have tended to be thumped, most recently by 19 at Tennessee.
In Knoxville, Georgia was outrebounded for the first time in SEC play and shot just 11 free throws, 21 below the Bulldogs average in SEC play.
Mann, the teams point guard and leading scorer, also laid a stinker, according to Fox. He got to the free throw line just once after averaging 10 attempts per game.
He didnt play well on either end, Fox said. He was probably due for a game where he didnt play well, and he didnt. But hes been a really good player for us, and Im sure hell bounce back.