As the holiday season kicks into high gear, so does the Georgia men’s basketball team. The Bulldogs have five games from now until the beginning of the spring semester, each just as important as the next.
It starts on Saturday, as the Bulldogs travel to Tempe, Arizona, for a matchup against 7-2 Arizona State. The matchup comes 10 days after Georgia’s 95-59 win over North Carolina Central University. In between the two games, Georgia players have been balancing final exams while still trying to develop on the court in practice.
Senior Tyree Crump said he hates the long separation between games but understands the value of being able to recover and practice. Graduate transfer Donnell Gresham Jr. said the break allowed the Bulldogs to get back to the fundamentals of shooting, rebounding and footwork. Even when there wasn’t practice, Gresham said players were getting reps in the gym to stay sharp and prevent any rust against the Sun Devils.
On the other hand, head coach Tom Crean said there’s always concerns when coming back from a long break in between games.
“It's very hard this time of year to get into any type of real rhythm with that because you had three games in three days, then it's a week,” Crean said. “The practices have been very spirited, very competitive. A lot of camaraderie in them, and they're working extremely hard in them.”
Crean knows the types of problems the Sun Devils pose. Arizona State returns three starters — including 20-point scorer Remy Martin — from last year’s team that appeared in the NCAA tournament. From the speed Arizona State plays with to its relentlessness, Crean said it’ll be a good gauge of where his team stands.
It’ll also be Georgia’s first true road game of the season. The coaching staff has made practices more intense in preparation for the hostile environment in Desert Financial Arena.
“[We brought] a lot of chaos to practice,” Crean said. “You've got to be able to manage the stress and the adversity and the chaos in a game like that.”
That’s just the start of Georgia’s holiday stretch. Six days later, they host 8-1 SMU and then play against Georgia Southern in Stegeman Coliseum three days later. The Bulldogs finish out 2019 against Austin Peay on Dec. 30 and then travel to No. 13 Memphis for possibly the toughest challenge before the start of SEC play.
In his fourth season with the Bulldogs, Crump has experienced some difficult games during the holidays. This season, he sees it as an opportunity to show how capable this team is.
“It’s a chance to show that we’re a top-25 team,” Crump said. “We’re just going to take it game-by-game, day-by-day, just do whatever we can to win.”