ATHENS -- The past few days should have seen the Georgia men’s basketball team talking about a big conference game against a lightning-rod opposing player. The Bulldogs could have been harping on last year’s controversial finish against Marshall Henderson and Mississippi as motivation.
Instead, the Bulldogs have been worried about stomach bugs, catching plane rides home and then worrying more about the stomach bug.
Then again, all that was in play before Georgia rallied for one of its most impressive performances of the season Wednesday. If the team is able to overcome that again Saturday against Ole Miss, it will be alone in third place in the SEC.
Georgia and Ole Miss are tied, each 7-4 in conference play. It’s a vital game for the NCAA tournament chances for Ole Miss (16-8, RPI rank of 68). For Georgia (13-10, RPI rank of 105) it’s about getting into NIT consideration and making something out of its season.
Georgia players were not available Friday to speak to the media to gauge their mood. Team officials said it was partly because of this week’s hectic travel schedule -- the team left Athens early Tuesday and didn’t return until late Thursday afternoon -- but also that lingering stomach bug.
Will any players miss Saturday’s game? That’s hard to say. Head coach Mark Fox met the media shortly before meeting with trainers to get an updated damage assessment. So the only person he knew was still sick was assistant coach Jonas Hayes.
“I’m sure it’s not done,” Fox said. “I don’t know who else will get it. But I’m sure it’s probably gonna catch somebody.”
On Tuesday morning, Kenny Gaines, Juwan Parker and Cameron Forte had the stomach flu. Parker was still afflicted during warm-ups Wednesday but ended up scoring a career-high 16 points. Fox opined that the bug contributed to the team’s slow start as it fell behind by 14 before rallying to lead by one at halftime. Georgia went on to beat Mississippi State by 20.
Freshman J.J. Frazier was afflicted during the game and was in the locker room early. That was part of the reason rarely used freshman Kenny Paul Geno came in -- and promptly sparked the comeback with eight points.
The only players who actually missed the game were reserve John Cannon and walk-on Brandon Young. But plenty of people caught it at some point. Trainers passed around masks on the airplane for everyone to wear.
The travel schedule also wreaked havoc with the team’s ability to practice the past few days. The storm kept the Bulldogs in Starkville for much of Thursday, and while Mississippi State was kind enough to let Georgia use its gym for practice, it had to be cut short when a flight home suddenly became available.
“We got about 45 minutes in,” Fox said. “We didn’t get a lot done there, but we got something done, which is better than nothing.”
Much of the team’s practice likely will center on stopping Henderson. The senior guard is the SEC’s third-leading scorer, at 19.3 points per game, and easily leads the conference with 93 made 3-pointers.
Henderson is also known for his antics, which the Bulldogs are well aware of from last year’s visit to Oxford. Ole Miss beat Georgia in overtime, but the Bulldogs were up three with less than three minutes left when Gaines, being trapped near midcourt by Henderson, was ruled to have elbowed Henderson in the face. Officials didn’t initially call it, but after the reviewing it, they decided Gaines had hit Henderson, even though video of the play didn’t appear conclusive.
It was a technical, and Henderson made both free throws to make it a one-point game. Georgia still came back and nearly won the game in regulation, but an alley-oop attempt to Donte’ Williams in the final seconds was unsuccessful. Fox also wanted a foul on the play.
Fox, reminded of that game, didn’t bite.
“We won’t talk about last year. We won’t do that,” Fox said. “This game’s independent of last year. We’ll just focus on how we have to play.”