After getting roughed up at Rupp, the Gamecocks hit the road again for their fourth road game in their first five games in the month of February.
South Carolina fell 77-43 to No. 1 Kentucky Saturday afternoon and Tuesday night they'll tip-off in Athens at Stegeman Coliseum against the Georgia Bulldogs. After facing an opponent for the second time this season in Kentucky, the Gamecocks will do the same again as they played the 'Dawgs on January 31.
That contest ended in a 67-50 win for South Carolina at Colonial Life Arena. Four South Carolina players scored in double-figures and junior Laimonas Chatkevicius led the way with 12 points to go along with three blocks. That game resulted in three notable stats. South Carolina's win snapped a five-game losing streak to the Bulldogs and that 17-point loss is still Georgia's largest margin of defeat this season. Also, the South Carolina win brought the series to a tie (21-21) since divisional play started in 1992.
Like South Carolina, Georgia's lineup has been effected by absences since conference play started. Sophomore forward Demetrius Henry and guard Justin McKie missed several games due to a concussion while Michael Carrera missed some time because of a hip injury. All are back in the lineup now but someone else took their place on the inactive list. Freshman point guard Marcus Stroman has missed the last two games due to a throat infection.
Georgia will be missing guard J.J. Frazier tonight due to a concussion. In the Bulldogs loss earlier this season in Columbia, they were without leading scorer and rebounder Marcus Thornton because of a concussion. Thornton has since returned but in that time, Frazier and sophomore guard Juwan Parker (achilles) have been on the bench. Their last full game with a 100 percent intact roster was their January 3 match-up with Norfolk State.
All five of Georgia's starters average double-figures scoring-wise: junior guard Kenny Gaines (11.6 PPG), junior guard Charles Mann (11.3), senior forward Nemanja Djurisic (10.8), Frazier (10.3), and Thornton (12.6). Thornton is back to playing his role as their go-to-guy but head coach Mark Fox admitted that he feels Thornton is "still trying to get back in the groove."
In Georgia's quest to avoid bad losses in order to make the NCAA Tournament, Fox has had to rely on players thrust into leading roles. In their disappointing loss to Auburn Saturday, Gaines led the team with 18 points, his second straight game leading the team in scoring. UGA was outscored by Auburn 21-11 in the final five minutes after holding their largest lead of the game (9) with 5:08 to play. Their RPI ranking fell 10 spots to 32 but it is still the third-highest RPI of any SEC team. According to the bracketologists, Georgia is an No. 8 seed to ESPN and a No. 9 seed to CBS Sports.
As I mentioned earlier, Georgia simply needs to avoid bad losses the rest of the way. South Carolina is, and would be another bad loss for the Bulldogs. The Gamecocks have lost three of their last four and seven of their last nine, yet they still boast the third best scoring defense in the SEC. Georgia is coming off a 37 percent shooting performance Saturday, just their third time all season they've shot below 40 percent from the field. In their loss at USC, they shot a ghastly 22 percent, a South Carolina record for SEC opponent field goal percentage.
Defense often travels and South Carolina will need it to if they want a shot in this one. I know Frank Martin doesn't want sophomore wing Sindarius Thornwell to take control of the offense, looking for more of an all-around approach, but Thornwell needs to rule the offense, it's just how he can make his biggest impact. Thornwell had 20 points versus UK and is averaging 15.5 points per game over the last four. Over the last seven games, Thornwell has averaged 14 points, five rebounds, and three assists. His aggressiveness will be key in South Carolina's fortunes the rest of the way.
Georgia is 2-3 in their last five games, including their Jan. 31 loss at USC. They've beaten likely tournament teams Tennessee and Texas A&M but lost to Auburn and South Carolina as well as Kentucky. Despite the win last month, South Carolina has lost eight of its last 10 match-ups with Georgia. The Gamecocks will be looking for their first win at Stegeman Coliseum since 2009 as Frank Martin will look to improve his 12-36 SEC record since he arrived in Columbia.
The game will be on the SEC Network where Dari Nowkhah and Joe Dean Jr. will have the call.