ATHENS -- The last time the Georgia men’s basketball team had a critical stretch of tough games, it failed miserably. The only upshot for the Bulldogs was the season had barely started.
So the next five games, all at home, all victories against weaker teams, served as a chance to fix the early problems.
Now here comes another stretch of five tough games. In fact, this stretch is harder, as four out of the five games come on the road against teams ranked in the RPI top 40.
It starts with Colorado, which is a resurgent hoops program. The Buffaloes (10-2) are ranked 21st in the AP poll and already have beaten Kansas. They’re coming off a five-point home loss to No. 7 Oklahoma State.
The next four games in the stretch are at George Washington (10-1), at Missouri (10-1), home against Alabama (5-6) and at Florida (9-2).
Georgia head coach Mark Fox argued that his team is in much better position now than it was earlier in the season, before a four-game losing streak to Georgia Tech, Davidson, Temple and Nebraska.
“The first five games of the year we weren’t quite ready,” Fox said. “We’re a much better team after these five games.”
It’s hard to know whether Fox is right based on the competition and the fact that the fifth game (against Western Carolina) saw Georgia needing to really from 10 points down in the second half. On the plus side, defense and rebounding were Georgia’s biggest problems during the four-game losing streak earlier in the season, and after focusing on those aspects the past few weeks, the numbers did improve.
“It’s just more of a cohesive feeling in practice,” sophomore guard Kenny Gaines said. “Of course, we’ve gotta pick it up on the defensive side, but on the offensive side, we really got to see that we can score on offense, and nobody can necessarily stop us except ourselves. On defense, we’ve just got to keep our intensity up earlier in the game.”
Following this upcoming stretch, the schedule gets much easier for Georgia. The SEC appears to be in another down year, so this season could follow a similar path to last year when the Bulldogs recovered from a 2-7 overall start and went 9-9 in conference play.
“We’ve got 21 guaranteed games left to go. They’re all going to be like conference games,” Fox said. “This stretch of games has allowed us to sort out some rotations and who can do what. (We) have some experiences that are important. ... I think our team is ready to be challenged again.”
“I think we’re getting better,” Gaines said. “We’ve got to rebound the ball better, turn up the defensive intensity earlier in the game and not wait so late. But like coach said, we’ve just got to get the job done, no matter who we play.”