As Mark Fox walked from the floor to the huddle, he had to immediately think of how to overcome the loss of his best player in a marquee game.
In less than two minutes of game action, forward Yante Maten was forced to exit Saturday’s 82-77 loss against Kentucky due to a significant knee sprain. Fox didn’t have much time to dwell on losing Maten. The Bulldogs’ head coach had to figure out a way to make up for the major production his star provides each night on the court.
“I walked from the floor back to the huddle and just scratched my head and thought, ‘OK, how are we going to scratch this one out in the dirt and give ourselves a chance?’ ” Fox said. “It’s part of it. It’s the reality of athletics. You have to deal with it.”
The injury immediately pressed forward Mike Edwards into a bigger role, with the sophomore spending a career-high 34 minutes on the court against the Wildcats. Edwards ended up having a pretty good game against the nation’s No. 11 team, scoring 10 points, including a highlight-reel jam during the beginning of the second half.
Edwards said he’s ready for the extended role he’s about to see, beginning with Thursday’s game at Alabama.
“I’ve been prepared for a moment like this for a while now,” Edwards said. “I’m just ready to step up.”
Losing Maten will force Georgia to adjust its game-plan quite a bit. The offense was previously designed around Maten, who is now unavailable for the time being. The Bulldogs likely will rely on a slew of players to make up for the lost on-court production.
Edwards and forward Derek Ogbeide will get more opportunities along the interior. Guard J.J. Frazier, who scored 36 points against Kentucky, could find himself in additional situations like Saturday, where he’s needed to take on a large scoring load. Juwan Parker has been Georgia’s most consistent third scorer and will be relied upon for even more baskets.
And it would be an additional help if Georgia saw a role player, or two, step up out of contributors Turtle Jackson, Jordan Harris, Tyree Crump, Pape Diatta and E’Torrion Wilridge.
“It changes a little bit because you’re missing 19 points a game and eight rebounds a game (from Maten),” Frazier said. “But we have capable players. It’s going to be harder, but I don’t think it’s going to be as tough.”
Georgia likely will try out a variety of lineups during its game against Alabama at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Edwards and Ogbeide down low is likely to be a combination used a lot. The option of going small exists, too, with Diatta and Wilridge playing a stretch-four role on the offensive end.
“What would be a little unique is going small and playing Mike at the five, which is something we haven’t done all season,” Fox said. “Injuries are a part of the game, and we’ll have to adjust. We’ll obviously see some of that small lineup because those other kids aren’t going to play 40 minutes a night.”
The adjustment won’t be easy, especially with Georgia in a no-lose situation at this stage of the season. Four games remain and the Bulldogs likely need to win each of them to get back in to the NCAA Tournament at-large conversation.
The Bulldogs are taking a positive approach considering the circumstances. With how well Georgia played against Kentucky for more than 38 minutes without Maten, the players are confident more of the same can occur over the final four games.
“We started putting in a couple of more things,” Edwards said. “It’s obviously going to change the rotation with how we do things. The plan our coach has is going to work well with our situation.”