Georgia coach Mark Fox was quick to downplay the impact a home loss to Vanderbilt could have on the Bulldogs season by saying on Wednesday “they all count the same.”
David C Bristow/Staff
Georgia guard Juwan Parker (3) shoots a jump shot during a NCAA men's basketball game between Georgia and Vanderbilt at Stegeman Coliseum in Ahtens, Ga., on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.
That’s certainly true, but today’s 1:45 p.m. game at Auburn could set the tone for which direction Georgia goes in the Southeastern Conference.
After their best start in the league in 11 years, the Bulldogs (10-9, 4-3 SEC) are now a loss away now from falling to .500 in SEC play and overall. Fourth place and 11th place in the standings are separated by just one game.
“Every game is important, we’re all bunched together so when you drop a home game like we did, you’re not happy,” Fox said Friday morning before the team bussed to Auburn. “I think the fortunate thing that we have is many more opportunities in front of us.”
Georgia is 1-7 away from home this season, but Auburn (9-9, 1-6) is a big step down from what the Bulldogs have faced on the road in SEC play when the schedule offered up three ranked opponents.
The Tigers are last in the SEC in the RPI at 174 while Georgia is 11th at 128.
The Bulldogs upset Missouri in overtime on Jan. 8, but lost at Florida by 22 and at Kentucky by 25 in their three SEC road games.
“There’s going to be a lot of people that lose at Kentucky,” Fox said. “The fortunate thing is we don’t have to play a couple of those people twice. We don’t have to play the Gators twice this year, and they’re obviously the best in this league. Over the course of the season, some of that stuff will even out, but we lost one at home that I’m not happy about.”
After watching the tape of the 59-54 loss to the Commodores, Fox said Georgia’s shot selection “was extremely poor” early in possessions.
He mentioned Nemanja Djurisc and Marcus Thornton in particular as culprits and other players took contested shots when they shouldn’t have on a night Georgia launched a season-high 23 3-point attempts.
Fox said he didn’t try to send a message with an overly grueling practice Thursday the day after.
“This is something that they have to learn by looking at it,” Fox said of a game Georgia shot a season-low 27 percent, including 17 percent on 3-pointers. “We’re dinged up enough. I couldn’t put them through the meat grinder yesterday and risk losing somebody else.”
Before the team left for Auburn, Fox said he didn’t know if second-leading scorer Kenny Gaines would be available today. The sophomore shooting guard injured his left thigh after a collision late in the game with South Carolina Jan. 22 and has missed two games.
“I’ll be praying tonight that we get Kenny,” Fox said. “He did finally shoot some balls (Thursday). So that was a good sign.”
Guard Charles Mann said of the absence of Gaines: “We’re built around each other to play without pieces, but Kenny plays a big part of the team. It hurt us but that’s not the reason why we lost.”
Georgia got back freshman Juwan Parker (hamstring) for Vanderbilt, but he had a horrid night, shooting 0 of 10.
“He didn’t play well because he hadn’t practiced,” Fox said. “The value of practice is so extreme. Even if we get Kenny back, he hasn’t practiced in essentially 10 days, but I don’t know yet if he’ll be cleared. I hope we see more progress today and then tomorrow morning.”
The Tigers snapped a 16-game SEC losing streak Thursday night with a 74-55 home victory against Alabama.
“They’re way better than their league record,” Fox said. “They obviously played very well (Thursday) night and beat a solid Alabama team pretty handedly.”
That game was pushed back a day to the winter storm, but that left the Tigers with less turnaround time to get ready for Georgia.
“A lot of our games left are at home and we feel like we can win at home,” Auburn forward Allen Payne said.
Georgia has won at Auburn just once in its last nine games there.
Marc Weiszer: twitter.com/marcweiszer
GEORGIA AT AUBURN
When/Where: 1:45 p.m. today/Auburn Arena, Auburn, Ala.
TV/Radio: SEC TV/The Ref 960-AM
Records: Georgia is 10-9, 4-3 SEC; Auburn is 9-9, 1-6 SEC