Georgia and Tennessee head into today’s meeting in Stegeman Coliseum in different frames of mind.
The Volunteers are riding high after upsetting No. 8 Florida this week. They’ve won six in a row and are the hottest team in the Southeastern Confernece.
The Bulldogs are a team with fragile confidence and reason to feel snake-bitten. They’ve lost three games in the last two weeks that they led or were tied in the final minute of regulation.
“Emotionally, we’re beat up a little bit from all those losses,” forward Nemanja Djurisic said. “We were very close.”
Georgia (13-15, 7-8 SEC) saw a 17-point lead vanish in a 63-62 loss at Vanderbilt on Wednesday night. Its best player, guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, lost the ball out of bounds with 19.2 seconds left with Georgia up by one.
Vanderbilt came down and Kevin Bright’s jumper fell through with 0.8 seconds left after bouncing off the rim and backboard.
“It’s always going to be in the back of your mind,” Caldwell-Pope said. “You’ve just go to try to put it away and move on to the next game.”
Caldwell-Pope, who expected to be fouled, dribbled the ball off his left foot as he tried to get across halfcourt.
“The wrong thing happened at the wrong time,” said Caldwell-Pope, who has led Georgia in scoring in all but three games this season and finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds against the Commodores.
Djurisic said Caldwell-Pope was “very emotional” at the end of the game, but he couldn’t say anything to Caldwell-Pope.
“We all know how he felt,” said Djurisic, who patted him on his back.
“It’s like I told Kentavious, ‘Those plays happen,’” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “Over the course of a season, eventually the breaks you think are going to even out. We’ve had four games in a row now that have come down to the final possession of regulation. This team’s been pretty resilient and they’re going to need to be resilient again.”
The Bulldogs lost by one at Vanderbilt, by two at Arkansas and in overtime to Ole Miss.
A week ago against South Carolina was different. Caldwell-Pope hit a 3-pointer with 8.9 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime where the Bulldogs pulled away.
Tennessee (17-10, 9-6) has moved into contention for an NCAA tournament berth and can still earn one of the four double byes for the SEC tournament.
“They’re definitely going to come in here breathing fire,” Georgia forward Brandon Morris said. “They’re really hot offensively.”
The longest winning streak in Cuonzo Martin’s two seasons as coach in Knoxville included a four overtime 93-85 victory at Texas A&M on Feb. 23.
“Boy, they’re playing great,” Fox said. “(Forward Jarnell) Stokes is such a factor inside that it has opened up so much for everybody else. They’re playing with great confidence and I don’t think they’ve lost since we played them. They’re just playing terrific. We’re going to have to play extremely well.”
Djurisic said Georgia’s season can change directions again like it has already. Georgia started SEC play 1-4 and then reeled off five straight victories.
Now the Bulldogs, who had some crucial calls go against them on the road during this stretch, have lost four of the last five games.
“We just need to be able to maybe not let the last few possessions determine the game,” Djurisic said. “We need to be more consistent throughout the whole 40 minutes and try to finish the game a little bit earlier and not let anything affect the outcome other than us.”
Tennessee at Georgia
When: 1:45 p.m. Saturday
Where: Stegeman Coliseum
Radio: WGAU 1340 -AM.
Records: Tennessee is 17-10, 9-6 SEC; Georgia is 13-15, 7-8 SEC.
Season at a glance: Tennessee has reeled off six straight wins since losing to Georgia on Feb. 6 in Knoxville and is tied with Missouri for fifth in the SEC, a game behind Ole Miss. The Volunteers have three road wins during their streak at South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M. They are coming off a 64-58 home win against No. 8 Florida on Tuesday. Georgia stands ninth in the SEC standings, just a game ahead of Vanderbilt and Texas A&M. All three of those teams are trying to notch a first-round SEC tournament bye that goes the top 10 teams in the standings. The Bulldogs have lost four of the last five games. They close out the regular season with a home game against Kentucky Thursday and a game at Alabama a week from today.
Probable starting lineups: Tennessee: G Trae Golden (6-2, 205, Jr., 12.1 ppg. 4.0 apg); G Jordan McRae (6-5, 178, Jr., 15.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg); G Armani Moore (6-5, 203, Fr., 2.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg); G Josh Richardson (6-6, 188, S0, 7.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg.); F Jarnell Stokes (6-8, 270, So., 12.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg). Georgia: G Vincent Williams (6-0, 165, Sr., 5.0 ppg, 2.3 apg); G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (6-5, 205, So., 17.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg ); F: Brandon Morris (6-7, 205, Fr., 4.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg); F Donte’ Williams (6-9, 225, Jr., 5.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg); C John Florveus (6-11, 240, Sr., 2.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg).
Series record: Tennessee leads 92-55. The Volunteers have won 15 of the last 21, but Georgia is 4-3 against Tennessee under Mark Fox. Georgia is 35-33 in games in Athens.
Last meeting: Georgia beat Tennessee 68-62 on Feb. 6 in Knoxville, scoring on each of its last seven possessions to get the win. Caldwell-Pope scored 24 to lead Georgia.
Noteworthy: Georgia freshman guard Kenny Gaines could miss his second straight game with what coach Mark Fox said was a “real sore” bone bruise in a heel. “It will be a game-time decision,” Fox said. “It will probably come down to pain tolerance.” … Tennessee is second in the SEC and 32nd in the nation in rebounding margin at 5.7. Stokes is 41st in the nation in rebounding at 9.2 per game. …Tennessee scored 37 and 46 points in consecutive games against Georgetown and Virginia early in the season, but reached 82 points against Kentucky, LSU and Texas A&M before playing Florida. …The Volunteers have four players from Georgia — Golden, McRae, Moore and Kenny Hall, who account for 51.4 percent of the team’s scoring. …Tennessee is shooting 46.3 percent from 3-point range in the last three games. …Georgia ranks 325th out of 345 Division I teams in scoring at 59.8 points per game but is 22nd in field goal percentage defense at 38.6 percent.
— Marc Weiszer