Georgia to host a "unique" Senior Day
Georgia basketball player Justin Kier (5) during the Bulldogs' game at Arkansas on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. (Photo by Gunnar Rathbun)
Georgia hasn’t beaten South Carolina in basketball since Jan. 4, 2017. Although, the Bulldogs hope to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive on Saturday in a rematch against the Gamecocks. Last time out, USC bested UGA 83-59 back on Jan. 27 in a lopsided affair.
Georgia (14-9, 7-9) is coming off an impressive win against LSU, while South Carolina (5-12, 3-10) lost to Mississippi State 69-48 on Wednesday.
The Bulldogs will celebrate Senior Day on Saturday, honoring “pseudo seniors” - Andrew Garcia, P.J. Horne and Justin Kier. All three arrived in Athens this past summer from their previous programs in hope that there would be a 2020-21 season, despite the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
Georgia head coach Tom Crean said it will be a unique day, to say the least.
“It’s a unique senior day not because of the season, but because they have the option to come back if they want,” Crean said on Friday afternoon. “That’s something we will deal with down the road, but I think that the three of them if we’re going to generalize it, bring real maturity. They brought excellent spirit and they’ve been well-coached. And so that absolutely benefits us when they come in”
Crean said that the trio has been great to be around.
“They’ve all gotten better,” Crean said. “I would say what I’ve loved too, is that they have appreciated being at a school like the University of Georgia. They have appreciated being in the program, at the school and being at this level. You know, obviously, P.J. had been in the ACC, but to come back home was a big deal to him. But in the case of Andrew and Justin, to be at this level. I mean you could see it in the summertime, but could really see it in the fall during our conditioning.”
Crean added that all three transfers have taken nothing for granted.
“I think it’s been a good lesson for our players that they should never feel like they’re entitled to anything,” Crean said. “Because it’s all about how you work and because it’s all about how you prepare. It’s about what you can bring to the table and the impact you can make on your teammates. So, I’ve loved having all three of them.”
After last season ended, Georgia had no active seniors on the roster. Rayshaun Hammonds was the only junior on the 2019-20 team, but he elected to enter the NBA Draft with future No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards. The program also lost a couple of freshmen to the transfer portal. So, that’s when Crean hit the portal himself to try and find leadership in some older guys. Horne transferred from Virginia Tech, Garcia from Stony Brook and Kier from George Mason.
With all that leadership, it seems like Georgia is starting to hit their stride as the season winds down.
"I feel like we are finding ourselves and everything is coming together really well,” Horne said. “We’ve just got to get to the next game and see how it goes."
Last time out, South Carolina shot 44 percent from the field en route to a 24-point win. The Gamecocks also shot 47.4 percent from the 3-point line, which proved to be a huge difference in the second half as they ran away with the lead.
That’s something that can’t happen this time around if Georgia wants to win.
Garcia said he thinks that the defensive intensity has picked up over the last couple of games.
"Credit to the coaches, I think the way we have prepared defensively for teams, trying to disrupt the guards so they have to handle the ball with more pressure has given us an advantage,” Garcia said. “Our level of how we're locked in at practice, especially the time and emotion that we put into it, plays a part in where we are now to where we were before. We're ready and super locked in trying to get the defensive part down first because offensively we want to push that pace. We've got to make sure defensively, in transition and the half-court, we're playing at a high level."
Crean added there’s been a difference in the confidence level later on in the season.
“They’ve prepared well and practiced hard all year,” Crean said. “There haven’t been practices where I’ve thought that they didn’t believe that they were going to win, and I think they’ve bounced back. They’ve shown really good resilience in bouncing back from the tough games, and I think it’s a credit to how they come in and how the coaching staff comes in.
“The coaching staff comes in with a very demanding but a ‘let’s get better’ mindset, and the players come in with the same thing and understand it. I think that’s what has helped us, so I would think the confidence level is raised. The moment you take your foot off the gas or relax for a second, it will leave you. So for us, we just have to continue to remain absolutely focused on how we get better and how we prepare for each game because as usual, each game is its own entity.”