Georgia is facing the difficult task of finding a way to win without its best player.
Coach Mark Fox said the normal ”next man up” plan doesn’t fit the challenge of replacing injured top scorer Yante Maten in the team’s final four regular-season games. More than one player will be needed to fill the void left by the loss of Maten, who suffered a sprained right knee early in Saturday’s 82-77 loss to No. 11 Kentucky .
Maten ranked among the Southeastern Conference’s leaders in scoring and rebounding.
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”Hopefully we can find a way to reinvent what we do,” Fox said Monday.
Maten won’t need surgery, but the junior may not return this season.
”I don’t think our medical team or myself have any expectation of Yante returning during the regular season,” Fox said. ”I think the odds of that are very, very slim.”
The loss of Maten comes at a critical time for Georgia (15-12, 6-8 SEC) and Fox, whose job status is the subject of increased speculation . Georgia plays at Alabama on Thursday night and will have little time to regroup before facing Louisiana State at home on Saturday.
Led by the high-scoring duo of Maten and guard J.J. Frazier, the Bulldogs were expected to make the NCAA tournament. It’s a goal that has eluded Fox in all but two of his first seven seasons at Georgia.
Maten (6-8, 240) was averaging 19.4 points, third in the SEC, and 7.2 rebounds before the injury.
”Obviously he’s been the most productive player on our team,” Fox said.
Maten’s production has not been enough against the league’s best teams. The Bulldogs have lost all six games against SEC leaders Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida. Two of those losses came in overtime.
Georgia is 6-2 against the rest of the league, including a damaging 80-60 home loss to Alabama on Jan. 25.
Frazier, a 5-foot-10 senior, tried to carry the Bulldogs against Kentucky. He scored 36 points, one shy of his career high.
Frazier and the Bulldogs can only hope Maten recovers for the SEC tournament.
”I just told him to keep his head up,” Frazier said Tuesday. ”I’m going to right the ship until he’s able to return. We’re going to be fine.”
The loss of Frazier leaves Derek Ogbeide and Mike Edwards as the team’s top inside players. Ogbeide already had passed Maten as the Bulldogs’ leading rebounder. Edwards had 10 points but only three rebounds in a career-high 34 minutes against Kentucky.
Maten’s injury could lead to bigger roles for E’Torrion Wilridge and Pape Diatta and freshman guard Tyree Crump if Fox goes with a smaller, quicker lineup.
”We don’t want to completely overturn the apple cart and change everybody’s role, but to a degree we have to change everybody’s role,” Fox said, adding Maten ”has a unique set of talents we built the team around.
”We’ll have to get creative in how we play and try to give ourselves chances to win.”
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