Call it a reversal of fortune.
When USC (13-13 overall, 3-10 in SEC) makes its visit Saturday to Georgia eager to avenge a 67-56 loss on Feb. 2, it will be doing so at a curious moment in both teams’ seasons.
When the Bulldogs defeated the Gamecocks at Colonial Life Arena, they were in the midst of a five-game winning streak that would see them improve to 12-11 overall and 6-4 in league play.
At the same time, USC was just settling in to a ruinous six-game losing streak highlighted by poor shooting, defensive breakdowns, inopportune mental lapses and an overall erosion of confidence.
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Saturday? Georgia (12-14, 6-7) is locked into a three-game spiral, losing close games against Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas. Those happen to be two teams USC has defeated (Ole Miss and Arkansas) and a third (Alabama) in which the Gamecocks finally awoke from their slumber.
Following the 63-62 victory against Ole Miss on Wednesday, USC coach Frank Martin was pleased by his team’s answering of the bell when trailing 60-54, its overall defensive effort, its dedication to following the scouting report and its display of what he termed “fearlessness in the moment.”
The biggest factor behind all of those? Chatter.
“Mike Krzyzewski said it best,” Martin said, referring to the highly successful Duke coach. “He said not talking is the most selfish act a teammate can perform because if you don’t talk, then you’re only concerned about yourself and there’s nothing more selfish than that.
“You have to talk. It’s a team game. The more of that you do, the more united you are and the more each guy trusts each other on the floor.”
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have grown increasingly frustrated, first by a low-scoring outing against Alabama, then when victory was snatched away during an overtime collapse at Ole Miss.
“I’m concerned about the mind-frame of our team,” Georgia coach Mark Fox told the Macon Telegraph prior to the Bulldogs’ trip to Arkansas on Thursday. “I think they’ve been a pretty resilient bunch, but they, obviously, were very frustrated the other night.”
The 62-60 loss at Arkansas only added to that frustration. Having the chance to beat the Razorbacks on their own court would have been a huge feather in the team’s cap, considering how well Arkansas plays at home.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope continues to be the Bulldogs’ go-to guy. That is where Georgia’s continuity ends as several Bulldogs have taken their turns as his primary supporting cast member.
When things are right with Georgia, Kenny Gaines and Nemi Djruisic have provided sparks off the bench. Against Arkansas, Sherrard Brantley erupted for 10 points.
In the bigger picture, a win against Georgia combined with a Vanderbilt loss against Mississippi State would move USC into a tie for the No. 11 seed in the SEC tournament. The Gamecocks get another crack at Vanderbilt in the regular season finale.
WHO: USC (13-13, 3-10 SEC); Georgia (12-14, 6-7)
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday
HERE: Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga.
RADIO: WNKT 107.5 FM
SERIES: USC leads 50-49
COACHES: Frank Martin (13-13 in first season at USC, 130-67 in sixth season); Mark Fox (62-60 in fourth season at Georgia, 165-103 in ninth season)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: It will be the 100th meeting between these two programs, which recently were named permanent rivals by the SEC. There is some contention about who leads the all-time series. According to USC, the Gamecocks lead 50-49. Georgia claims the Bulldogs are out in front 51-48. ... The rivalry stands a 21-21 in the SEC era. Caldwell-Pope is one of 11 players in Division I to have scored in double-figures in each of his team’s games. He is the only SEC player to do it. Against Ole Miss, he needed two free throws with 17 seconds left to keep the streak alive. Against Arkansas on Thursday, he didn’t score his first point until 13:31 remained in the game.