Georgia's NCAA hopes rest heavily on injured players
Athens, Ga. — Georgia's NCAA Tournament outlook rests heavily on its medical report.
At full strength, the Bulldogs could be capable of challenging Michigan State in Friday's game in Charlotte, North Carolina. But Georgia might face a quick exit if it can't get past the injuries which helped lead to its exit from the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Guard Kenny Gaines, Georgia's second-leading scorer and top perimeter defender, missed Saturday's loss to Arkansas in the SEC semifinals with a sprained left foot. Reserve guard Juwan Parker aggravated an Achilles injury in the loss and played only six minutes.
Gaines at first sounded unsure when asked Sunday about his status for the NCAA Tournament.
Asked about his recovery, Gaines said "By Friday? I'm not sure where I'll be."
He then provided a quick update.
"Actually, I am sure," Gaines said. "I'll be on the court playing."
Gaines started and scored nine points in the Bulldogs' win over South Carolina on Friday night. He aggravated the injury during the game and went to the bench, took off his shoe and then slammed the shoe on the floor. He later returned to the game.
"I was just frustrated I couldn't do the things I wanted to do out there on the court," Gaines said. "Obviously it started hurting me but it was more frustration. I just hate being injured and not being able to give 100 percent to my team."
With an eye on protecting Gaines for the NCAA Tournament, coach Mark Fox held out the junior against Arkansas the following day.
Fox conceded some players will not be at full speed by Friday.
"We've got a ways to go," Fox said Sunday after Georgia was selected as the No. 10 seed in the East Region. "Half of our team was in the training room for a couple hours today. … Hopefully by later in the week we can get closer to being healthy, but we obviously have some guys who will not be at 100 percent."
Georgia (21-11) could have been slotted for one of the Thursday games but instead will have an extra day for players to recover.
"We just want to get as healthy as possible," guard J.J. Frazier said. "That's our main goal. With Kenny, he's tough as nails. I think he's going to be the same guy he is as when he's 100 percent. That's just the kind of mindset he has. He'll battle through anything."
Fox also expressed confidence in the toughness of his injured players but acknowledged he doesn't know how Gaines' foot and Parker's Achilles' will respond to rest and treatment this week.
Forward Nemanja Djurisic said he was "anxious" about the uncertainty created by the injuries.
"We have a few days, which is really good," Djurisic said. "The past weekend was a little bit tough because we had some health issues and some emotions going on with Juwan getting hurt again and Kenny not being able to play. It's really good to get some recovery time and settle down a little bit from all the emotions and excitement and get back to work."