WHO: Georgia (14-9, 7-5 SEC) vs. Florida (16-9, 7-5 SEC)
WHEN: Tuesday, 9:00pm ET
WHERE: Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga.
TV/RADIO: ESPN (Brad Nessler, play-by-play; Sean Farnham, color; Shannon Spake, sideline); Georgia Bulldog Radio Network (Scott Howard, play-by-play; Chuck Dowdle, color; Tony Schiavone, producer)
Georgia once again gets a chance to prove they can compete with a top-tier program on a national stage, but this time they are granted the opportunity in front of their home crowd. The second chance at the Florida Gators has arrived, and they hope to build upon their tough times endured in the SEC opener six weeks ago. Florida causes some conflict in different areas in the game. However, if Georgia is able to exploit the Gators weaknesses, they will have the opportunity to win a crucial game.
Sophomore forward Yante Maten recalled Georgia’s struggles in their 14-point beatdown in Gainesville on January 2nd.
“I think we were letting them play too comfortable,” Maten said. “So (on Tuesday), we need to make sure we do a better job on the defensive side this game.”
Maten and head coach Mark Fox both agree that defense needs to be prioritized this time around, both on the perimeter and inside, crashing the glass. Freshman center Derek Ogbeide has been a rising force for Georgia at the right time, helping Maten vastly on the other side of the basket. He has provided a big boost for the Bulldogs, as demonstrated when he snagged 13 boards on Saturday in the victory over Mississippi State.
Fox elaborated on the reasoning for Ogbeide’s increased impact, saying he has finally gotten comfortable. He seems to be pleased with his enhanced production, as Fox says getting comfortable after a significant injury is “hard for a freshman to do.”
The production of Ogbeide and improved consistency on the defensive end is necessary, as the Bulldogs have now entered a time of utter desperation. If they hope to reach the NCAA Tournament, they must win five of their remaining six games in order to put themselves back on the radar. With that said, continuing to protect their home court must be a top priority. Georgia seems to have found their identity as a team, however, if their harmonized style of play doesn’t carry over, their hopes of a significant season could perish.
Georgia faces a Florida squad which lives by the three-point shot and dies by the three-point shot. As was apparent in January, the perimeter jumper was the driving force to victory in Gainesville. With that said, Georgia must do a better job of guarding outside, as previously stated by Maten and other Bulldogs. Florida has multiple outside shooters, including versatile scorer Dorian Finney-Smith. Averaging 15.4 PPG, he can cause issues for Georgia on the defensive end. Perimeter defense must be a key for Georgia, as if Florida is able to convert on the perimeter, a repeat of the Gainesville debacle could be seen at Stegeman Coliseum on Tuesday.
Georgia senior guard Kenny Gaines is dealing with a hand injury which could have been sustained in the Kentucky game. Fox boldly stated that Gaines will not miss any games. However, the injury is a reason given for his recent slump. Gaines could see a decrease in minutes once again, and Georgia’s impact on the offensive and defensive end could be lessened. The Bulldogs must have a next man up mindset to fill the void when Gaines is sidelined at various times throughout the game.
Georgia will give one final push to make the NCAA Tournament, while their chances may look bleak. That push continues tonight, and the Bulldogs feed off of their home crowd while proving themselves on a national stage. Georgia will play a harmonized style of basketball on both ends, as Maten and Mann will lead the way once again. Momentum will continue for the Bulldogs, and the door for postseason play cracks open just a tad more.
Georgia 74, Florida 67