Georgia has embraced adversity better than prosperity this season, and the Bulldogs got another dose of the former a day before tonight's showdown with No. 6 Florida (9 p.m., ESPN).
Sophomore center Steve Thomas received a one-game suspension Monday for fighting in Saturday's 75-72 loss at Auburn. Southeastern Conference officials upheld the suspension after reviewing the incident between Thomas and Auburn center Kyle Davis, who was also suspended for one game.
Thomas' absence means the No. 21 Bulldogs will be short-handed tonight at Stegeman Coliseum against the Gators (18-4, 7-3 SEC), who have won three consecutive games after losing three straight.
Thomas has averaged 9.4 points and 4.2 rebounds in his past five games.
"I don't think we've played five or six straight games with our whole team together, and that's been confusing for us," said Georgia coach Jim Harrick, whose team has lost three of its past five games. "There's been a lot of adversity on this club, and I hope we can get this straightened out."
The Bulldogs are probably comforted to know they've already beaten Florida without any help from Thomas. The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder was sitting out a three-game suspension during a rape investigation when Georgia went to Gainesville and sprang an 84-79 upset of the Gators on Jan. 19.
Sophomore Jonas Hayes played in Thomas' place and was effective, scoring 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting and pulling down four rebounds. The 6-foot-6, 200-pounder also held Florida center Udonis Haslem to just six shots in the second half as the Bulldogs earned their second straight win in Gainesville.
Georgia was 2-1 when Thomas was out and is 2-3 since his return.
"When (Thomas) was out earlier in the SEC, Georgia was still winning basketball games," said Florida coach Billy Donovan. "There is no question in my mind that Jonas Hayes is just as important."
Still, Harrick is concerned about how his team will react to facing the 6-9 Haslem and forward Matt Bonner (6-11) the second time around. Donovan also has 6-9 freshman David Lee to bang the Bulldogs inside.
"We can go with (Chris) Daniels and Hayes, but we have to really stretch out our bench deeply," he said. "That really taxes our team. We don't have very much depth as it is, and to lose one guy out of your top seven or eight is really very difficult for us."
Thomas is expected to return for Saturday's home game against No. 10 Kentucky. If he is ejected for fighting again, according to NCAA rules, he will be suspended for the rest of the season.
The Bulldogs (18-6, 7-4) are a half game behind Florida in the SEC East with five games left in the regular season.
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.
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