Originally created 11/15/02

Georgia deals with obstacles



NEW YORK - Jim Harrick's Georgia basketball team is in a familiar situation.

The No. 16 Bulldogs prepare to play a higher-ranked team without its full squad. Georgia will open its season against No. 4 Texas (9 p.m., ESPN2) in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Madison Square Garden, and last season's starting frontcourt watches on television in Athens, Ga.

Neither Chris Daniels nor Steven Thomas will be available for the Bulldogs as Daniels is serving a one-game suspension by the NCAA for playing in an unsanctioned game, and Thomas is academically ineligible for the first semester.

While at Georgia, Harrick has gotten some of his team's best performances while undermanned.

"We've done it with one guy out, but I don't think we've done it with two," Harrick said. "With two it's going to be really difficult. ... Everyone has to tie their shoes a little tighter, and go out and play a little harder"

Last season, Thomas missed four games serving a suspension.

Without him, the Bulldogs were not a better team, but did manage to play well, winning three of those games, including when the Bulldogs went to Gainesville, Fla., and beat No. 2 Florida. It was the highest-ranked team a Georgia team had ever beaten.

The only loss came against Alabama the same day the suspension was announced.

In March, Thomas was sick while Georgia was in Chicago for the first round of the NCAA Tournament and played just 16 minutes. Jonas Hayes stepped in and had 14 points and 14 rebounds as the Bulldogs beat Murray State. Thomas played against the Racers, but only 16 minutes.

In both of those games, Hayes stepped in for Thomas, just as he will do tonight.

"We've done this before, but this time we're going to be extra thin," said Hayes. "There's going to be even more of a sense of urgency because there's so little room for error."

The Bulldogs have also shined without Daniels.

Last season, Daniels was served with a half-game suspension against Kentucky by the Southeastern Conference. With Daniels on the bench the first half, Georgia led at halftime and then used the forward to defeat the No. 10 Wildcats in Stegeman Coliseum.

Two seasons ago, the Bulldogs went to Gainesville without 7-footer Robb Dryden, and defeated the then-No. 7 Gators.

"We get more focused and know we have a tough task ahead of us," said Bulldogs point guard Rashad Wright. "(Harrick) makes it so much easier. He knows what we've got. Coach is very smart and that helps us out."

One of the biggest adjustments will be to move Damien Wilkins inside more than Har-rick wanted to.

At 6-foot-7, 220-pounds, the North Carolina State transfer has the size to play inside, but Harrick wants to play Wilkins more as a guard with the Bulldogs.

"Damien's going to have to play inside and assume a bigger role than I wanted to there for the first six or seven games (while Thomas is gone)," Harrick said.

Luckily, the Longhorns are a small team. Texas has only one player taller than 6-8 - redshirt freshman Chris Wright - who is 6-9. Texas' best inside player is the 6-8 James Thomas, who averaged 10.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per game last season.

The key to the Longhorns has nothing to do with height, instead it's the 5-10 T.J. Ford. The Longhorns' sophomore point guard led the NCAA in assists with 8.3 per game last season.

"Ford is the engine that makes everything run," Har-rick said. "He makes everyone better, which is the ultimate compliment."

Texas coach Rick Barnes doesn't think there is too much difference between his team and the Bulldogs.

"The difference between Georgia and Texas is so fine a line, that you can't see it," Barnes said. "I will be surprised if they don't win the Southeastern Conference. ... There's no doubt that Georgia's a Final Four-type team."