ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s basketball team hasn’t reached the midway point of its SEC schedule just yet, but Coach Mark Fox believes last weekend’s open date came at a perfect time.
“I felt like our young players had hit the wall big-time. We’ve had to play Kentavious [Caldwell-Pope, the freshman who leads Georgia in scoring at 14.4 points per game] so much,” said Fox, whose team visits Auburn at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday. “We’ve had to play him so much and play him out of position. He’s had to play at the small forward against bigger, stronger guys and then have to play 35 minutes a game in the league.
“He, Neme [Djurisic] and a lot of these young guys, it’s just a long year. It’s a physical adjustment for them. It’s a mental adjustment. And I felt like we were hitting that wall.”
The Bulldogs (10-10, 1-5 SEC) return to the court from an eight-day layoff, having last faced Kentucky last Tuesday and lost 57-44.
Senior guard Dustin Ware said the break allowed the Bulldogs to regroup mentally, as well, having come up short in the closing minutes of several conference games already.
“It came at a good time, just for us to really relax,” Ware said. “We kind of needed to realize that we’re there. We’ve just got to keep pushing, keep battling and keep fighting every day and every game. I think we know we’re close and we know we’ve just got to get over the hump. We’ll get there. We’ve just got to keep playing.”
The layoff came with its share of heartache for Ware and his family. He missed Saturday’s practice to attend his grandmother’s funeral, fewer than three months after his grandfather also passed away.
“My grandmother and my grandfather both passed away this year, so it was a tough time -- especially for my mom losing both her parents -- but you’ve just got to keep going,” he said.
Ware’s Bulldogs swept both games against Auburn last year, taking an 89-87 advantage in the all-time series against the Tigers, but they expect a stern challenge when they visit East Alabama on Wednesday.
Auburn (12-9, 2-5) has lost eight of its last 12 games following an 8-1 start when it opened the season against mostly weak non-conference opposition. However, Fox correctly points out that the Tigers have been extremely tough at home, posting an 11-1 record at the new Auburn Arena -- with the one loss coming against top-ranked Kentucky.
“They’re phenomenal at home. … They’ve got great crowds, their students are right on the court and they play like a different team at home,” Fox said. “They’re a team that like us has had their battles to score, but at home that hasn’t been an issue. Their statistics at home are much better than they are on the road. We’re playing the game there, so we’re going to have to be good on both ends.”