ATHENS -- Exactly a month ago, the Georgia men’s 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 it’s a great advantage that Georgia’s 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 we’re confident in the next five games we play, we can beat them if we just play well,” Mann said. “But they’re all going to be hungry, and they’re going to be prepared to play us, because we beat them and they want to get a split. So we’ve 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 doesn’t 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 Saturday’s 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.
“They’re playing their best basketball of the year,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said.
Said Mann, “They’re much more confident. They’re playing much better. They were a young team, but it seems like they’ve found their rhythm a little bit. Same for us: We’ve found our rhythm. We know what we’re capable of doing if we play well.”
And that’s 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 team’s 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 didn’t play well on either end,” Fox said. “He was probably due for a game where he didn’t play well, and he didn’t. But he’s been a really good player for us, and I’m sure he’ll bounce back.”