Tennessee can avenge a surprising January loss to Georgia in its next game, but its more pressing concern is whether its leading scorer will be available to help the team respond to its two most recent defeats.
The 20th-ranked Volunteers hope Wayne Chism will be able to play as they try to avoid their first three-game losing streak in three years Wednesday night when they host the Bulldogs.
Tennessee (18-6, 6-4 SEC) opened its conference schedule with three consecutive wins before losing 78-63 to Georgia on Jan. 23, snapping a seven-game winning streak in the series. The Bulldogs (11-12, 3-7) were winless in three conference games to that point but led the Volunteers by double digits for most of the game.
Tennessee comes into the rematch after dropping its last two contests - both on the road to ranked opponents. After losing by 19 points to then-No. 22 Vanderbilt, the Volunteers shot 38.3 percent and committed 17 turnovers in a 73-62 loss at No. 3 Kentucky on Saturday.
The two losses have dropped the Volunteers into a tie with Florida for third place in the SEC East. On Wednesday, they’ll be looking to avoid losing three in a row for the first time since Jan. 10-17, 2007.
“We have to move on to the next game,” said guard Bobby Maze, who scored a team-high 15 points against the Wildcats. “We cannot dwell on this loss. We have to play Georgia at home soon and that is game that we must win. … The SEC tournament is coming up and losing cannot become contagious for us.”
The Volunteers could be in trouble if Chism, leading the team with 13.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, is unavailable. He hasn’t practiced in the past week while he continues to get treatment on his injured ankle and hip. His backup is Brian Williams, who was suspended for nine games and has been back with the team for less than two weeks.
“We’ve got three or four players that at their positions … there’s a drop-off when you go to the bench,” coach Bruce Pearl said. “Therefore tempo, foul trouble, those things are more of an issue for us because the quality of our depth isn’t what it needs to be.”
Whether it’s Williams or Chism, the Volunteers will need to do a better job defending Bulldogs forward Trey Thompkins, who had 21 points and went 9 for 13 from the field against them in January. Tennessee hasn’t lost both regular season games against Georgia since 2000-01 and hasn’t lost to the Bulldogs at home since an 88-76 defeat Feb. 21, 2001.
Georgia has won two of its last three and will be trying to win back-to-back games for the first time since December.
The Bulldogs are coming off a 66-61 victory over South Carolina on Saturday, overcoming a 10-point second-half deficit. Jeremy Price, making his second start of the season, scored 16 points and hit two critical free throws. Thompkins scored a game-high 21 points and finished with 10 rebounds and four assists.
“What is pleasing to me is that deep down inside we still had some fight in us,” coach Mark Fox said. “When your team can respond to some adversity late in the game, in a game that wasn’t the prettiest, it pleases you. I was really proud of them for that.”
Including the earlier win against Tennessee, Georgia has won three of five against ranked opponents, with all three victories coming at home. The Bulldogs haven’t beaten a Top 25 team on the road since winning at then-No. 5 Kentucky in 2004.