ATHENS, Ga. --The weather is bad, both at home and at the destination, but this late in the season the game would go on. Somehow, the Georgia men’s basketball team would find a way to Mississippi State.
“Even if we have to hitch-hike, we’ll find a way to get there,” head coach Mark Fox said a few minutes after noon Tuesday.
The Bulldogs will not have to hitch-hike, and they won’t have to bus all the way there either, as originally planned.
Twenty minutes into what was set to be a long bus ride to Starkville, Miss., Georgia got a bailout. Delta came through with a flight that could take the Bulldogs from Atlanta to Columbus, Miss., and the team could take the short bus ride from there to Starkville.
And there awaits a game that will be important to the Bulldogs, at least if they want to stay in the top half of the SEC standings. Georgia (12-10 overall, 6-4 SEC) will be looking for just its second road victory of the season. Three of its next four games are on the road, and five of its remaining SEC games are away from home. This one is among the most winnable, along with next week at South Carolina.
“We know we can win on the road. We let a couple games go,” Georgia sophomore guard Charles Mann said, citing the Auburn game. “It’s no pressure on us; we’ve just gotta come ready to play, and play our best in order to win.”
Mississippi State (13-10, 3-7) has lost five in a row but is 11-3 at home this year, with the losses coming to TCU, Florida and Kentucky.
“A win would definitely help us to sustain our momentum right now,” Gaines said. “We’ve gotta focus on the little things. They like to run in transition a lot, so we need to make sure we’re back on D. Stop their transition break. And just guard the basket.”
Normally, Georgia would fly directly from Athens to Starkville. The only problem this time was: a) flying out of Athens and b) flying into Starkville. Both airports were affected by the weather.
“Getting a plane into Athens is a bit of an issue, but landing a plane in Starkville I guess has become an issue, because evidently the equipment they have there isn’t in place, I guess,” Fox said.
The Georgia women’s basketball team has a game at Texas A&M on Wednesday, and it took a bus to Atlanta, where it will fly to College Station. Fox said he looked into bussing to Atlanta, then flying somewhere else and bussing to Starkville. But at that point, the flight to Columbus, Miss., wasn’t available, so he decided that bussing the whole way was the best course.
So the team boarded a bus a little after 2 p.m. and began what it expected to be a long ride (Athens is about 360 miles from Starkville). Sophomore guard Kenny Gaines said he had a couple of books for class he could read but first hoped to nap. Fox said he would stop at least once to have players stretch their legs but overall felt it wouldn’t be a big deal.
But when Delta let Georgia know the team could get a flight into Mississippi after all, the team jumped on it, and the bus immediately changed the destination for Atlanta Hartsfield airport.
Still, a potentially bigger problem might await — getting home. More bad weather is forecast, and Fox acknowledged the team could be stuck in Starville for a bit longer than expected. Georgia’s following game is Saturday at home against Mississippi.
But Fox sounded like he would worry about that later.
Speaking before the change of plans, Georgia players said they didn’t think the travel issues would have a negative effect on the game.
“This is a big game for us. We want to keep on winning,” Mann said. “We can’t really control the situation, with what’s happening. We’ve just gotta roll with the flow, and just get ready for the game and not let this affect the outcome.”
Djurisic’s status uncertain
Junior forward Nemanja Djurisic, the team’s third-leading scorer, will be on the trip, but whether he plays will be determined on Wednesday.
Djurisic hurt his ankle near the end of Saturday’s win over Texas A&M. The good news is that it wasn’t a high ankle sprain - Fox called it a “traditional” ankle sprain. The bad news is it was swollen and blue Monday.
Djurisic is averaging 10.2 points per game, leads the team in 3-pointers made, and is also third on the team in rebounding. He has only started three games but has usually been the first player off the bench, playing starter’s minutes.
“It would be our preference to have Nemi available. We’ll just have to see how his body responds,” Fox said.