As soon as Yante Maten went down and out 95 seconds into Saturday’s game against Kentucky with a right knee injury, the Georgia’s men’s basketball team was forced to adjust on the fly.
“When I walked from the court back to the huddle, I kind of just scratched my head and thought, ‘How are we going to scratch this one out in the dirt and give ourselves a chance?’” Mark Fox said a few days later.
The Georgia head coach is reshaping a team built largely around Maten’s frontcourt presence for today’s 7 p.m. ESPN2 matchup at Alabama.
The Bulldogs close out the regular season with four games that they are expected to be without the 6-foot-8 Maten, who Fox said probably wouldn’t even make the trip to Tuscaloosa.
“I think the medical people were stunned that there wasn’t damage inside,” Fox said. “Obviously, the ligament’s damaged and that’s going to take time to repair. The best part of it is he doesn’t require surgery. Obviously, the worst part of it is it’s going to take time to heal and we don’t have a lot of time right now.”
Georgia (15-12, 6-8 SEC) led with less than a minute to go against Kentucky before losing 82-77, but pulled out a 76-75 win Feb. 11 at Tennessee after getting only 17 minutes from Maten due to foul trouble.
Guard J.J. Frazier scored a season-high 29 points in that game and topped it with 36 against the Wildcats.
Those came with the opponents focused on stopping the inside-out combo of Maten and Frazier which often meant double teams on Maten down low.
“You go into the game knowing that you’ve got to guard him, you’ve got to guard J.J.,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.
Frazier isn’t shying away from even more defensive attention coming his way.
“I mean it’ll be fun,” said the senior who is averaging 17.3 points per game and a team-high 19.4 in SEC games. “I’m a competitor and I want you to throw the best at me.”
With Maten injured, Georgia leaned heavily on sophomore forward Mike Edwards, who played 34 minutes, and small forward E’Torrion Wilrdige, who played 32, both career highs.
“I’ve got to start hydrating a lot more because I started cramping up late in the game,” said the 6-foot-9 Edwards, who averaged 17.4 minutes in SEC play before Kentucky.
He said players will gear up for increased minutes in the next four games “because we have no other choice.”
Center Derek Ogbeide, a 6-8, 245-pound sophomore, will be counted on more on the boards against Alabama ((16-10, 9-5), which has won three of its past four and outrebounded Georgia 40-27 in their first game. The Crimson Tide top the SEC in rebounding margin at plus-six.
Ogbeide leads Georgia with 7.4 rebounds per game to go along with 6.9 points.
“We’re not going to be able to reinvent ourselves completely this late in the year, so other guys are going to have to step up and play a little bigger role,” Fox said.
Edwards had 10 points against Kentucky and will have an expanded role in the post along with Ogbeide.
“I think those two kids certainly the other night did a nice job, but we’ll have to be a little smarter, stay out of foul trouble and be very efficient with how we play,” Fox said.
Edwards has come off the bench as a Bulldog except for starts last year at Missouri and recently at Tennessee.
“I’ve been prepared for a moment like this for a while now,” said Edwards, who averages 4.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
There’s no hiding that Georgia will miss the production of Maten, third in the SEC at 18.7 points per game and second on the team with 6.9 rebounds.
“It’s going to hurt,” Barnes said. “You can’t lose a player like that and it not hurt you. Now people will come into the game with a different game plan from the beginning because you have to prepare for a lot of different things with Maten on the floor. Mark’s been around a long time, he’ll make the adjustment and sometimes teams really rally when things like this happen.”
Alabama dealt Georgia its most lopsided loss of the season on Jan. 25, 84-64, in Athens.
“We’ll have to get creative in how we play,” Fox said, “and try to give ourselves chances to win.”