ATHENS -- There is a lot of analysis that could go into the Georgia basketball team’s chances of beating Auburn on Saturday, but ultimately most of it boils down to what happens Saturday morning.
Kenny Gaines has missed the past two games with a thigh bruise that has been surprisingly slow to heal. In his absence, Georgia has dropped two game in a row and had two of its three lowest-scoring games of the season. Gaines’ status will be determined Saturday morning in Auburn, according to head coach Mark Fox.
“I’ll be praying (Friday) that we get Kenny,” Fox said. “He did finally shoot some balls (Thursday). So that was a good sign.”
The importance of Gaines, the team’s second-leading scorer, was on display in Georgia’s home loss Wednesday to Vanderbilt. Georgia missed 17 straight 3-pointers and was miserable in general on offense. Gaines, the team’s starting shooting guard, has taken the most 3-pointers this season and is also one of the team’s best slashers, both in the halfcourt and in transition.
“We’re missing him a ton,” junior forward Marcus Thornton said after Wednesday’s loss.
But even if Gaines is cleared by trainers, Fox would be worried about rust as Gaines hasn’t practiced in more than a week. Fox pointed to freshman Juwan Parker, who replaced Gaines in the starting lineup against Vanderbilt after missing one game and nearly a week of practice.
Parker shot horribly against Vanderbilt, going 0-for-10 overall, including five missed 3-pointers.
That doesn’t mean Fox will keep Gaines off the floor if he’s cleared. Auburn (10-9, 1-6 SEC) has struggled, but obviously Georgia isn’t good enough yet to win on an off night.
Georgia (10-9, 4-3) was sitting in prime position in the SEC when the week started. It was 4-2, with its two toughest games behind, with one road victory and a perfect home mark.
The loss to Vanderbilt derailed much of Georgia’s momentum. Georgia would have been tied for second with a win. Instead it is now one of eight teams at either 4-3 or 3-4.
“We’re all bunched together,” Fox said. So when you drop a home game like we did, you’re not happy. But I think the fortunate thing we have is there’s many more opportunities in front of us.”
Getting Gaines back should help. But it would also hard for Georgia to be worse shooting the ball than it was against Vanderbilt, when just two more made 3s, out of 18 total misses, would have given Georgia the win.
Shot selection was the main problem, according to Fox. He pointed to ill-advised 3-pointers taken by Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic, about seven seconds into possessions. There were also some contested 3-pointers taken, rather than waiting for a better shot.
Then as the game went on, Fox said, “We got the yips, and that snowballed on us.”
The team hit three 3s in the final minute to get closer, but by then it was too late.
“If we take the right shots, we’ve been a good 3-point shooting team,” Fox said.
Djurisic, despite being a forward, would be the player most likely to fill the 3-point shooting void. The junior is making more than half of his 3-point shots this season (23-for-45) and hit big shots in the wins over Missouri and Arkansas.
But against Vanderbilt, Djurisic took just three shots beyond the arc and all missed of them. Walk-on Taylor Echols took seven.
“Obviously teams are gonna find (Djurisic) now, because he’s shot it so well,” Fox said. “I don’t think it was one of his better nights, and he’ll have to get himself geared up to play better.”