Up-and-down Bulldogs search for consistency in latter half of SEC play

Marcus Thornton can see what others that have watched the Georgia basketball team this season know.

AJ Reynolds/Staff, @ajreynoldsphoto
Georgia guard Kenny Gaines (12) drives with the ball while defended by LSU guard Tim Quarterman (55) during the second half of the NCAA college basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 91-78.

The Bulldogs can rise up and beat a team like Missouri or LSU that’s in the NCAA tournament conversation or drop three in a row and have trouble scoring.

“We just have to be more consistent,” said Thornton, a junior forward. “We’ve done a good job, I think we’ve improved. We just have to do that day-by-day.”

Georgia’s been up and down. It started 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference then went on the three-game slide before knocking off LSU 91-78 Thursday night.

Will Georgia (11-10, 5-4) keep it going against Texas A&M (13-9, 4-5) Saturday at 8 p.m. in Stegeman Coliseum or fall back to .500?

“This was a big game, but now we have to flush it like I’ve been saying throughout the season and worry about Saturday,” sophomore guard Charles Mann said Thursday night. “Saturday’s going to be a big one, too.”

At the midway point of the SEC season, Georgia (11-10, 5-4) is tied for fourth in the standings.

That’s a position that didn’t seem likely after going 6-6 in non-conference play without a quality win.

The Bulldogs have some of those now, beating two of the SEC’s top six teams in the RPI: No. 46 Missouri and No. 61 LSU, but the Bulldogs also have lost at Auburn and at home to Vanderbilt.

And in a conference that has only two elite teams — Florida and Kentucky — it’s a thin line between the second-tier and lower division.

Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Vanderbilt are all 5-4. Missouri and Texas A&M are just behind at 4-5 and Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Alabama stand at 3-6.

“There’s a lot of teams in this league that are really even,” coach Mark Fox said. “Any win that you can get is important because there are a lot of solid teams.”

At this point last season, Georgia also was 5-4 in the SEC and was 11-11 overall.

The Bulldogs finished 9-9 in the league and with a 15-17 overall record for the second consecutive season.

For Fox, in his fifth year as Georgia’s coach, the next five weeks should determine whether he returns next season.

“You have to have a sense that you’re going in the right direction and that you’re continually improving,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said before the season. “What does that mean? That’s the job of the athletic director to make that determination.”

In the second half of league play, Georgia avoids Florida and Kentucky and gets Missouri and Ole Miss at home, but road games at Tennessee, Arkansas and LSU won’t be easy.

There are four games remaining against teams below Georgia in the RPI: Texas A&M, two against Mississippi State and at South Carolina.

Georgia has rebounded well (39th in the nation) but can struggle to find its shot from the field (39.3 percent in SEC play) or at the foul line (66.4 percent for season).

The Bulldogs’ top two scorers are Mann and guard Kenny Gaines, but the team has been boosted by frontcourt scoring. Thornton (7.8 points per game) who has more than tripled his career average entering the season after coming off knee surgery, and Nemanja Djurisic has raised his scoring average from 7.9 last season to 10.5.

Fox thinks Georgia can be on the upswing, especially with Gaines and Juwan Parker getting healthier.

“We’ve just got the one senior, we’re still going to get better,” Fox said Thursday night. “The last 10 days we stumbled, we didn’t play well enough to win and injuries are part of the game. We’ve got to deal with that and respond to it better next time if it happens.”

Marc Weiszer: twitter.com/marcweiszer

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