It seemed odd to see Pape Diatta sitting on the bench throughout the entire 40 minutes of Georgia’s win over Auburn.
In that particular game, the Bulldogs went with a shorter rotation as only eight players saw double-digit minutes. Georgia won 96-84, with some intrigue sitting in as to what Diatta’s role would be moving forward.
Apparently that was a one-game thing.
During the past two games, in a close loss to South Carolina and in a win over Missouri, Diatta got increased minutes on the floor. After playing 16 minutes against the Gamecocks, Diatta logged career-bests with 27 minutes and 12 points.
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Diatta made 3-of-4 four free throws in the game’s final 10 seconds to help salt away Georgia’s win over Missouri. If Diatta can continue contributing baskets in increased minutes, the Bulldogs figure to be in a good spot moving forward.
And therefore, it begged this question. What exactly happened for head coach Mark Fox to sit Diatta out three games ago against Auburn?
“I don’t know,” Diatta said with a chuckle.
Earlier last week, Fox said Diatta’s absence against Auburn was a “coaches’ decision” due to Georgia’s need to play zone against the Tigers. Regardless, that decision seemed to light a fire under Diatta, perhaps sending a message to the junior college transfer from the College of Southern Idaho.
Fox was pleased to see Diatta take a further step in his development at the Division I level with his performance against Missouri.
“Pape continues to improve,” Fox said. “I think Pape, he’s still trying to get comfortable. I thought (against Missouri) was the first time he looked like he was beginning to not only be comfortable but have some confidence. That was a big step for him. He’s an important part of the game.”
With SEC play having begun, Georgia will need to count on Diatta to loosen up defenses along the interior. Diatta can slash and drive to the basket as a small forward but also can shoot the 3-ball. While Diatta has started the season shooting 31 percent from behind the arc, Diatta has made three of his last seven attempts.
Diatta also hit one of Georgia’s only two 3-pointers against Missouri.
“Offensively, you’re playing against more physical defenses, and you’re running some things that you didn’t run the year before, so there’s a transition there as well,” Fox said. “It takes everyone their own amount of time to make that transition, and Pape has made some progress in some areas and needs to make some more in other areas.”
Diatta admitted that Saturday’s outing was “my best game so far.” In addition to his 12 points, Diatta added five rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot.
Diatta said he’s been locked in during practice for moments such as Saturday, when Fox decided to use him for 27 minutes. With Georgia taking on Mississippi on the road Wednesday, there’s a good chance Fox could once again turn to his junior college transfer.
“The fact we got the win, that’s something huge,” Diatta said. “All I really want is to go out there and compete, to make sure we get the win. That’s all I want.”