ATHENS — When Mark Fox got the question he was expecting, he looked over at Tim Hix, Georgia’s sports information director.
“Did I not say something to you Tim about this?,” Fox said, grinning. “We’re talking about one team (Friday), and that’s Missouri.”
And not Kentucky.
But to be fair, the question only came at the very end of Fox’s meeting with the media Friday, and it was asking the head coach whether he felt his team would be looking ahead to Tuesday’s game against No. 1 Kentucky.
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Those who have been around the Georgia men’s basketball team know that no opponent can be taken lightly.
The Bulldogs have been here before. Coming off a big road win, facing an inferior opponent at home, analysts putting the Bulldogs safely in the NCAA tournament.
The only difference this time is it’s later in the season, and the players have memories of being burned the last time. Consecutive home losses to Auburn and South Carolina are why Georgia (18-9, 9-6 SEC) still has work to do to earn its NCAA tournament berth.
“We’ve done a very poor job of dealing with success thus far, in very small spurts,” Georgia senior Marcus Thornton said. “I think we went out and got it back under control and did the kind of things we’re supposed to do. That’ll be the big key for us, just taking it day by day and looking at it as, ‘All right, we’ve got this game, let’s give it all we’ve got.’ ”
That was the message from several Bulldogs on Friday, two days after their win at Mississippi. Two weeks ago, they were coming off a road win at Texas A&M and fell flat at home against Auburn. They followed that up with another bad loss — to South Carolina.
Missouri (8-20, 2-13) is coming off a home win over Florida, in which guard Namon Wright had 28 points while making 6-of-8 3-point attempts. Wright figures to be a big focus of the game plan for Georgia, which has tended to lose when other teams’ top outside shooters get hot.
“We feel like we’ve learned from our own mistakes,” Kenny Gaines said. “Missouri is a good team. I don’t think their record reflects their talent level. They’ve just had a rougher year.”
Whether or not that’s true, Fox probably has to be glad Gaines is at least saying it. The Bulldogs had very slow starts in the losses to Auburn and South Carolina, a good sign they weren’t ready to play as hard as they have in other games.
But Georgia is also healthier now. Thornton, who struggled his first few games after returning from a concussion, appears to be rounding into his old form. J.J. Frazier, who missed the South Carolina game with a concussion, has played a bit better the past two games.
Juwan Parker, who has missed 13 straight games with an Achilles injury, is getting “close” to playing, according to Fox. Parker has dressed out the past three games but hasn’t played yet.
“We’re just getting back to being whole and having that team chemistry,” Gaines said. “We’re a confident team again, and we’re just ready to get after it.”
One worry for the Bulldogs is they lost about half a day of practice Thursday because it took so long to get back from snowy Mississippi. The team didn’t get in until around noon.
Then there’s the question of whether the players truly have learned their lesson. When Fox was asked if he was confident his team had done so, his answer contained several mentions of the word “hopefully.”
At minimum, the Bulldogs are saying all the right things.
“I’m not going to take anything from those teams, they outplayed us both games, but those games were a lesson learned for us,” junior Charles Mann said. “We’ve gotta come ready to play every night.”